Judge, others issue complaints against chief

RIDGEWAY – Ridgeway Police Chief Christopher Culp has repeatedly shown “a lack of manners, professionalism, and respect” for the town’s traffic court and Municipal Judge Adrian Wilkes, according to public records obtained by The Voice through a Freedom of Information request.

Wilkes recently penned a scathing letter directed at the chief, who according to Wilkes, at one point made a veiled threat against him and disputed the judge’s sentencing.

“He openly attempted to tell me how I should sentence individuals and insinuated that previous judges had been relieved of their duties for not issuing sentences the way he thought they ought to be issued,” the letter states.

Culp couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mayor Heath Cookendorfer said the letter was one of a number of complaints the Town Council addressed in executive session Thursday.

“It didn’t paint a good picture of our police chief,” Cookendorfer said on Tuesday. “All in all I’m not happy with any of it.”

A motion to immediately terminate Culp failed due to a lack of a second. Instead, Cookendorfer said after Thursday’s meeting that the town plans to address performance issues with Culp.

“We do have some underlying issues with the police department, some complaints, and we’re going to correct those issues,” the mayor said. “Addressed to Cookendorfer, Wilkes’ letter was dated June 13, the day before Ridgeway Town Council considered firing Culp.

Wilkes’ letter says the chief consistently speaks over the judge and others in the courtroom.

Culp also “repeatedly continues to argue” after rulings, questions court rulings and decisions, and challenges courtroom procedures, the letter continues.

Of direct impact to town operations, Culp called in sick 10 minutes before a June court session was supposed to begin, the letter continued.

“I told him that would cause a major problem and asked him for a doctor’s excuse,” the judge wrote. “He got very defensive and rude with me. He told me he would not be going to the doctor or providing any type of paperwork to explain his absence.”

As a result of the chief missing court, everyone on the docket that day received “not guilty” verdicts, the letter states.

“It is my belief that if a person is sick enough to miss court, he is sick enough to go to the doctor,” Wilkes wrote.

Wilkes added that Culp told him that he informed his “supervisor” of his plans to call in sick, according to the letter.

When Wilkes asked to whom Culp was referring, the chief replied that it was Ridgeway Councilman Donald Prioleau.

Prioleau and Cookendorfer confirmed that Prioleau is considered Culp’s supervisor. They said a hierarchy was established in recent weeks to increase communication and to keep closer tabs on Culp’s whereabouts.

Prioleau said the procedure calls for the chief to notify Prioleau if he expects to miss court, and for Prioleau to relay the message to the clerk of court.

“That’s the instructions from the mayor,” the councilman said.

Prioleau contends that personality conflicts are to blame for issues between Wilkes and Culp. Prioleau said he hoped to address them in a meeting that was scheduled for Wednesday with the Fairfield County chief magistrate.

“The chief has 18 years of experience,” Prioleau said, defending Culp. “With a judge with no experience and a chief with lots of experience, I have recommended we bring in the chief magistrate of Fairfield County to develop proper procedures.”

Cookendorfer said he has a meeting scheduled with Prioleau on Wednesday to discuss the town’s police department, but that he is not aware that the Fairfield County chief magistrate had been contacted in regard to issues with the police chief.

Judge Adrian Wilkes’s letter of complaint to Mayor Heath Cookendorfer concerning Ridgeway Police Chief Christopher Culp.


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