- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Department of Public Safety officers worked roughly $80,000 in overtime in the month following the massacre at “Mother Emanuel” AME Church in Charleston as they provided security at the victims’ funerals and kept the peace during demonstrations at the Statehouse over the Confederate flag.

The agency provided estimates to The Associated Press for the period between June 21 and July 18 - from the day before Gov. Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to be removed from Statehouse grounds through the day that opposing groups rallied at the Statehouse.

Some legislators say state officials didn’t use common sense when they authorized a North Carolina-based Ku Klux Klan group and a Florida-based group affiliated with the New Black Panther Party to hold the overlapping rallies.

While applauding law enforcement’s handling of the spectacle, they have asked what it cost taxpayers.

At a hearing last month, a Department of Administration official told legislators the approval of the rallies came down to people’s free speech and assembly rights under the First Amendment.

Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, said Friday he understands First Amendment rights but still faults the agency for not even suggesting one group protest on another day or at least another time.

“I do think common sense should prevail,” said Courson, whose district includes the Statehouse grounds. “Someone should recognize and apparently did not that these people weren’t there to socialize.”

At least five people were arrested during the rallies, which attracted an estimated 2,000 people at the peak.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has said law enforcement did its best amid the chaos, but officers were outnumbered and overwhelmed, as they put themselves between the opposing sides. His department was among other local and state law enforcement agencies that worked the rallies.

The situation prompted the Department of Administration to change how it reviews requests to use Statehouse grounds, to allow for input from both the State Law Enforcement Division and the Department of Public Safety.

The Department of Public Safety’s overtime estimates, provided Thursday, cover two pay periods for its officers assigned to either the Statehouse or the funerals of the nine victims killed at the historic black church June 17. The department, which is responsible for Statehouse security, said it could not determine overtime for the day of the rallies by itself.

Officers received an estimated $44,300 for overtime worked from June 21 through July 4. The period included President Barack Obama’s visit June 26 to provide the eulogy in Charleston for the church’s slain pastor, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, as well as the public viewing of Pinckney under the Statehouse dome. A Highway Patrol honor guard carried his casket inside.

The last funeral for the victims was July 2.

Officers with Public Safety’s three security divisions worked an estimated $34,000 in overtime from July 5 through July 18.

That period included the Legislature’s votes to remove the Confederate battle flag from its 30-foot perch on Statehouse grounds, as well as its July 10 removal ceremony. An honor guard of troopers lowered the flag from the pole where it’s flown since a 2000 compromise took it off the dome.

Courson said a primary responsibility of state government is to protect residents, so he has no issue with the extra security for the events - only with the decisions that allowed for the overlapping rallies.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide