Accused of bullying a store clerk and lying about it, a Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputy was fired in August. Twenty-seven days later, she was hired by the Bluffton Police Department and is now back patrolling the streets.
Accounts differ on what happened during the July 31 incident when Sgt. Selena Nelson of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office stopped by the Oreck Clean Home Center in Bluffton to return an air purifier she had purchased. She wanted a cash refund, according to an internal investigation launched by the sheriff’s office.
Employee Tyler Weaver explained to Nelson, who was dressed in her police uniform with her service weapon and Taser strapped to her side, that he could not refund the $317.99 in cash because Nelson had purchased the item with a debit card. Store policy required him to refund it the same way, according to investigation documents obtained by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette through an open records request.
The clerk claimed that Nelson “began yelling at him, demanding a cash refund and began to use profane language toward him,” according to the investigation. “He said her behavior was intimidating because she is a law enforcement official in uniform with a Glock service weapon and Taser on her at the time she was yelling and cursing at him.”
In an effort to resolve the situation, the clerk eventually phoned one of the store’s owners, who reiterated that the store could not refund the money in cash, according to investigation documents.
Another owner, Brad Blake, then got on the phone and asked to speak with Nelson, according to the owner’s statement to an investigator. But Nelson refused to speak with him, saying “she didn’t do business with him and she did not want to talk with him. She only wanted a cash refund.”
Nelson refused to speak with Blake once more and began to chant, “I want cash money,” according to Blake
“What I kept hearing her say is, ‘I want cash money. I want my cash money. Cash money. Cash money,’” Blake later recounted to a sheriff’s office investigator.
“My whole impression at this point was here was somebody that bought something ... that all of a sudden is in a real jam for cash and they’re going to do whatever it takes to force us into giving her the cash,” he said.
When Blake finally got Nelson on the phone, he said she kept talking over him and wouldn’t listen.
Eventually, he told the employee to give Nelson a cash refund, Blake told the investigator.
“The first thing I want is this resolved and her out of the store,” he said.
“Even when (the clerk) told her he was going to give her the cash, the belligerence and the sheer ridiculousness of this was astounding,” Blake said. “Throughout this entire situation, I had no idea that she (was) a sheriff’s deputy in uniform ... If you’ll behave like this in uniform, good lord.”
Nelson then refused to sign a receipt acknowledging she received a cash refund and said she would be back the next day to return a second purifier she had purchased from Oreck and would sign for both refunds then, the internal investigation said based on Weaver’s testimony.
“(The clerk) said he felt like this was a police shakedown or robbery,” wrote the investigator.
‘I didn’t rant and rave’
Nelson gave a different account during an internal investigation launched Aug. 8.
During an interview with an investigator, Nelson said she did not get upset and asked “politely for a cash refund.”
“I wasn’t like being nasty to him (the clerk), trying to intimidate him” Nelson said. “He was smiling and I was smiling.”
Nelson also denied repeatedly asking for cash.
“I did not continue saying, ‘I want cash. I want cash,’” Nelson told an investigator. “That’s like a child.”
She also denied using the word, a-- or any other profanity, as alleged by the clerk.
“At no time did I say, ‘a--,” Nelson said. “I didn’t act out. I didn’t rave and rave.”
With discrepancies in the accounts of the incident, the investigator wrote that the only way he could see to resolve the issue was to administer a polygraph examination to Nelson.
“I advised her that if she lied in the polygraph examination, I expected her to be terminated and asked her not to lose her career over something like this,” Lt. Brian Baird wrote.
Signs of attempted deception, lying
When Nelson underwent a polygraph test the next day, she failed, according to the investigation.
The test detected deception when Nelson denied lying in two written statements she gave about the incident.
After she was told the results of the polygraph, Nelson once again told Baird she did not think she used the word “a--,” but did admit that she raised her voice, the investigation said.
With some prodding from the investigator, Nelson eventually recalled that she had used the term, “a--” while speaking with the manager of the Oreck store in Savannah, whom she phoned during the incident. The manager had sold Nelson one of the air purifiers.
“Yeah, I told (the Savannah store manager) how great she was and I ... probably did say to her, ‘a--,” Nelson said, adding that it was not used in a derogatory way. “I did tell (the Savannah manager) she sold her a-- off.”
“I asked (Nelson) why she did not tell me that yesterday or before the polygraph, and she said she did not think of it,” Baird wrote. “I told her all of this could have been avoided had she told me the truth yesterday, and she said she understood.”
When contacted by the investigator, the Savannah store manager did not recall Nelson saying the word “a--” or the phrase “sold your a-- off,” during their phone conversation.
“I never heard any tone or her raising her voice or anything negative,” the manager said, adding that Nelson had behaved “quite professional” in previous encounters.
Nelson was placed on administrative suspension with pay on Aug. 9. The next day, she was fired.
The Bluffton Police Department hired her less than a month later.
“I read the report and I interviewed her along with other members of my command staff and we felt that she would get through this,” said Bluffton Police Chief Joseph Manning.