Chief survives move to fire him

NAACP, School officials called to defend Culp

RIDGEWAY – Christopher Culp still has his job.

Ridgeway’s police chief was not present when town council members killed an effort to fire him immediately.

Councilman Rufus Jones made a motion to immediately fire Culp, but the motion died when nobody seconded it.

Culp’s brush with potential termination comes amid a number of complaints, including doubling as a school resource officer at the expense of policing the town and openly disrespecting the town judge, according to public records obtained by The Voice. (See ‘Judge, others issue complaints against chief’.)

Mayor Heath Cookendorfer said Monday that Culp isn’t certified to serve as an SRO, nor has the town appointed him to that role.

“His primary job/responsibility is to perform the duties of a police officer,” the mayor said.

In a letter obtained by The Voice, Municipal Judge Adrian Wilkes said Culp frequently challenges his authority in and out of the courtroom.

“Chief Culp has shown a lack of manners, professionalism, and respect for the Court,” the letter states. “He has consistently attempted to speak over and interrupt myself and others within the courtroom.”

In spite of these complaints and others, council members adjourned Thursday’s three-hour meeting without further discussion.

Jones declined to comment after the meeting.

In making his motion, Jones alluded to complaints about the chief doubling as a de facto school resource officer at Geiger Elementary School. But he said other complaints drove his desire to fire Culp.

“I want to make a motion – this has nothing to do with the school – this motion is for the complaints we’ve had about Mr. Culp,” Jones said. “I would like to terminate him at once.”

Cookendorfer told The Voice that Culp’s time spent at Geiger Elementary wasn’t an underlying issue, but acknowledged there have been discussions about the chief’s school visits.

Additional complaints drove the discussion, but Cookendorfer declined to specify the nature of those complaints.

“We had some complaints, and we addressed those complaints tonight,” the mayor said Thursday. “We talked about the times that he has been going there (the school), but we have to find a happy medium there. He’s not a school resource officer. He’s the chief of police.”

State Law and SROs

In his monthly report, Culp said he performed 22 security checks in May at Geiger Elementary. He also responded to five accidents there, council documents state.

Culp further stated that 20 citations and 11 warnings were issued in the town. There were no arrests.

State law defines school resource officers, or SROs, as sworn law enforcement officers who have “completed the basic course of instruction for School Resource Officers.”

The course must be provided or recognized by the National Association of School Resource Officers or the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, the law states.

State law further states SROs “have as a primary duty the responsibility to act as a law enforcement officer, advisor, and teacher for that school district.”

Maj. Florence McCants, spokeswoman for the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, said Culp meets the primary qualification of being a Class 1 officer, which basically means he has full arrest powers and has completed the academy’s 12-week Basic Law Enforcement Training Program.

But the chief has not completed any SRO certification courses recognized by the Justice Academy.

McCants couldn’t say whether Culp met the second requirement, which says an SRO’s primary duty is to work as a law enforcement officer for the school district.

William Frick, chairman of the Fairfield County School Board, said all SROs are currently contracted through the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office. The arrangement applies to schools both within and outside municipal limits, he said.

Asked if there have been any communications between the Town of Ridgeway and school district about SROs at Geiger Elementary, Frick said he didn’t think so and deferred further comment to Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green.

“Any contract negotiations would initiate with the district office,” Frick said.

Green couldn’t be reached as of press time.

In the meantime, Cookendorfer said the town plans to address performance issues with Culp.

“It’s a heated situation, none of us run [for public office] to be popular. We have hard decisions to make,” he said. “We do have some underlying issues with the police department, and we’re going to correct those issues.”

Supporters back Culp

During both public input sessions, residents overwhelmingly spoke in favor of Culp. Among them were representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Brenda Murphy, president of the state NAACP and Ridgeway native, called Culp a role model.

“You have a policeman who’s on the cutting edge,” Murphy said. “He’s there with our young people. He’s teaching them to not be afraid of the police. You are on the cutting edge because of this policeman.”

Tiffany Allison said that as a relatively new resident and expecting mom that she believes in Culp’s ability to protect the town. She raised concerns about the town prohibiting Culp from performing well checks at Geiger Elementary School.

“I was advised that you had banned Officer Culp from visiting the school for any reason other than to issue a citation,” Allison said.

“You have removed the only protection our children have at this time during their school day for reasons that have yet to be justified,” she continued.

Myra Bramlett, principal at Geiger Elementary, pleaded with council members to allow Culp to continue visiting the school.

“If you are indeed thinking of taking away the local officer, I want you to think about how the kids have built a relationship [with Culp]. They know him and they support him,” Bramlett said. “The officers in law enforcement are our friends.”


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