- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina House committee is asking the state attorney general to investigate whether the human resources director at the Department of Public Safety lied to lawmakers and should face a felony charge.

Members of the subcommittee who heard from Tosha Autry on May 5 warned her to be careful before she spoke and even had the perjury law read to her twice, but her comments left them little choice but to recommend the criminal investigation, subcommittee chairman Kirkman Finlay said Wednesday.

“None of us had hoped to end up here,” said Finlay, R-Columbia. “These rules give us a clear path forward. One that I hope we don’t have to use at all again.”

Autry’s lawyer said she has questions about whether the committee followed public records laws. Also, the agency already investigated the comment and determined she made a poor choice of words but did not willfully lie, lawyer Malissa Burnette said.

“I question why she has been singled out for such punitive action and public humiliation,” Burnette said.

The felony perjury charge could carry up to five years in prison with a conviction. There is no minimum sentence.

At the May 5 meeting, lawmakers played a recording of Autry saying “you will tell white lies because you know what is going on, but you’ve got to act like you don’t know what is going on.” They did not explain how the recording was made or who Autry was talking to.

Autry first denied making the comment before the tape was played. After hearing it, she then confirmed it was her voice and said her remarks were misunderstood and she was saying that people in human resources know confidential information like why someone was fired and can’t talk about everything they know without violating confidentiality rules.

The oversight committee showed Public Safety’s report, which determined Autry “used a poor choice of words and a poor method of communicating the need for confidential information to remain confidential.”

Burnette said Autry had no idea her situation was going to be discussed Wednesday. Lawmakers brought it up under an item labeled “discussion of administrative matters.”

Autry is a dedicated employee who spent a number of hours before the meeting gathering information requested by the committee, Burnette said.

“She was blindsided by subcommittee members grilling her about a small portion of an unidentified recording that was irrelevant to information she had provided. She attempted to offer a context for the remarks on the recording but was prevented from doing so,” Burnette said.

Finlay’s subcommittee is also reviewing the Department of Juvenile Justice, where he has said a perjury allegation may coming soon. The Columbia Republican has been aggressive in the meetings over the two agencies, having the law on perjury read aloud and suggesting to agency leaders they need to carefully think before answering questions.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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