News 12 Investigation: Above the Law? (Part 2)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013

NEW ELLENTON, S.C. (WRDW) -- Kara Carter, is a lifelong resident of New Ellenton, but one of Carter's concerns for her hometown is whether friendships and relationships are preventing policing and arrests.

"I have heard nothing positive at all about the police department," she tells News 12.

Just months ago, New Ellenton Police Department Chief Alesia Parks was patrolling on Green Street when she ran into Antoine Williams, who documents say had been running from officers, because he possibly had guns and drugs. However, it was something Williams allegedly said to the Chief Parks that has stirred so much controversy. South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) documents say Williams threatened the life of an Aiken Department of Public Safety Officer Ricky Brown, who owns property in New Ellenton.

"Williams asked Parks to deliver a message to Ricky Brown," the SLED investigative report reads. "Williams said to tell Brown that his gun has bullets too."

"Right now, I cannot tell you anything about this case," says Chief Alesia Parks in an interview with News 12. "This is an open case, and so I cannot make any comments about the case."

Chief Parks won't say much, but her statement to SLED says Williams did make the threat.

"I told [Williams] that if he killed a cop he wouldn't be justified but if an officer killed him, the officer would," her statement reads. "I told [Williams] if they didn't have anything illegal on them when an officer [approaches] them, then don't run."

At the end of the statement, Parks says she drove off.

Law enforcement sources tell us that Williams also allegedly threatened the lives of the officers at New Ellenton Police Department, allegedly calling her officers "punk ass boys."

South Carolina law says threatening public officials is illegal and an arrestable charge. However, Chief Parks didn't arrest Williams, she didn't charge Williams, and she didn't even type up an incident report.

"Can you tell us why an incident report wasn't filed here at NEPD?" Mills asks Chief Parks.

"I can't make any comments on the case, because it is an open case," she responds.

News 12 later found out that Chief Parks is good friends with a family member of Antoine Williams.

"I've heard of things like that happening that her friends . . . were not arrested when involved in situations," says Carter.

Some have even suggested the chief be investigated by SLED or even charged with Misconduct in Office for failing to report a crime. However, the chief remains firm that she did nothing wrong.

"You know, we can't control what people say about us, but I feel like I did not do Misconduct in Office," she tells News 12.

However, Carter also questions the level of police service people in New Ellenton get.

"I mean, I really hate to say this, but there was an officer that, as I was leaving my yard one day, he was sitting at the back of my property asleep in the car," she says.

As for Carter's car, one morning she found it vandalized. Yellow paint was splattered and smeared over most of her mid-sized SUV. She says she had a good idea who did it and told the police. However, there were no arrests, and Carter wasn't surprised.

"I, myself, have probably not seen the chief but one time in the past two years, and I'm constantly out riding my bike and walking out-and-about town," says Carter.

When asked about the service New Ellenton police provide, Chief Parks is confident that she is doing her job.

"I can tell the people of New Ellenton that the New Ellenton Police Department is doing its job. We take our job seriously," Parks says.

But recently, after complaint after complaint, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office tells News 12 that deputies have started patrolling and serving warrants in New Ellenton's jurisdiction. When asked, Chief Parks tells us that the patrol sweeps were a cooperative effort. However, News 12 is told that isn't the case.

"Well, the constituents I've heard from are concerned about the New Ellenton Police Department's professionalism, their conduct, how they write tickets, where they patrol, sometimes I've heard that they patrol outside of the city, but there are just numerous complaints, and a lot of it centers around drug issues," says Representative Bill Taylor, who serves the New Ellenton area at the Statehouse.

Representative Taylor offers a solution.

"A solution to this that's been discussed amongst city leaders, and I have certainly pushed for it, would be the disbanding of the New Ellenton Police Department and to contract with the Sheriff Office and have a substation in New Ellenton and let the professional Sheriff's Office take care of the policing for New Ellenton," he says.

"Does the county need to take over police services in New Ellenton?" News 12 reporter Mills asks New Ellenton Mayor Vernon Dunbar.

"Well, we have discussed that on city council, and that would be a last resort," he says. "If our police force, you know, if we felt like they were ineffective in fighting the crime here in New Ellenton, that would be a last resort, but we would certainly leave it on the table."

Mayor Dunbar says he feels safe at his home but knows that some are concerned about crime, and "rightfully so," he says.

"Are there any relationships that hinder crime-fighting, or does that remain to be see at this point?" Mills asks Dunbar.

"That remains to be seen," the mayor says. "There's nothing that's evident of that."

But at the same time, he's open to change.

"If a family member gets in trouble or something like that, you know, maybe the chief or whomever involved with it needs to step back and let the process happen, because maybe they can't be objective in enforcing the law," says the mayor.

Meanwhile, Carter hopes the department doesn't disband, but she does hope for a change of leadership and a police department that'll fight crime more aggressively.

"I want to see New Ellenton represented," says Carter. "I want us to have a police department."

News 12 has learned that a couple of these cases that could potentially show favoritism have created a pretty big rift between the chief and many of her officers. Both Mayor Dunbar and Chief Parks deny it, but News 12 has heard otherwise.

News 12 is told by multiple sources that the mayor met privately with all but the chief and her captain, so he could hear their long list of grievances first-hand.

In the end, though, suspect Antoine Williams was arrested for allegedly threatening the officer. News 12 is told that, weeks later, only after Officer Brown warned Chief Parks that Williams might be dangerous, Parks told Brown that he should watch out too. Startled by the admission, Officer Brown e-mailed SLED directly.

"The chief [has] not done anything about this, not even an incident report," wrote Brown.

Weeks later, a task-force of SLED agents and deputies from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office arrested Williams in New Ellenton. Williams was charged with Threatening the Life of a Public Employee, and he not awaits his trial. He was also charged with Possession of Cocaine.

New Ellenton Mayor Dunbar, a friend of Officer Brown, met with Chief Parks and the town's police commissioner. The mayor says Chief Parks did not perceive what Williams allegedly said as a threat. When asked, Mayor Dunbar says he would have perceived the reported language as a threat, however.

Meanwhile, Dunbar says he has not requested a SLED investigation.

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