Originally created 10/17/00

Town fills police vacancy



WAGENER - None of Wagener's police cruisers have moved from a fenced-in field behind the fire department for more than a month.

That's because the town didn't had any officers to use them until late last week when an Orangeburg man filled one of three vacancies - the equivalent of the entire police force.

Police Chief Norman Courtney was put on administrative leave without pay and is being replaced. Officer Randy Price resigned before he was fired. Officer David Abrams officially retired last month, but hasn't worked since June, officials said.

The only law enforcement in town since Sept. 1 had been Aiken County sheriff's deputies, who were asked to patrol Wagener's streets, Mayor Steve Carver said Monday.

Officer Ted Gant was hired last week to replace one of the policeman.

The mayor held an impromptu news conference to clear the air about recent allegations that the town council has treated unfairly the police department, specifically Chief Courtney.

"Even though we're walking around town with mud on our faces, we're going to act professional and do what's right," Mr. Carver said.

He said the council unanimously voted Oct. 4 to put the chief of six years on unpaid leave until he retires March 19. Council members also voted to pay the chief's benefits until he retires.

Chief Courtney verbally accepted the agreement, Councilman Koster Brown said. He announced Aug. 14 that he would retire.

The council already has interviewed two candidates to replace Chief Courtney and expects to announce the new chief within a week, the mayor said. The locks on the police department have been changed because town policy requires it, he said.

Mayor Carver is remaining tight-lipped about the details leading up to the chief's forced retirement. He won't publicly explain because the dispute between the chief and the town probably will end up in court, he said.

To complicate matters further, the chief and Mr. Carver are next-door neighbors. Chief Courtney was one of the mayor's biggest supporters when he ran for office, Mr. Carver said.

The town's attorney imposed a gag order on the council, officials said.

Chief Courtney did not answer his door Monday or return repeated phone messages left at his home.

The chief took a leave of absence in April to be by the side of his ailing wife, who lost her battle with lung cancer last month. Town officials said he's been "in and out" of work for six months.

Chief Courtney circulated some petitions around town, asking for residents' support, that mentioned his wife's illness, officials said.

The mayor said the town bent over backward to give the chief enough time to care for his wife, and then grieve. He was paid until last month, he said.

The chief's lengthy absence from the force is only one of the reasons he was asked to retire, Mr. Carver said.

Wagener's part-time officer, Mr. Price, left Sept. 1 after he was told to follow procedure and refused. The council voted to fire him for insubordination, but he resigned.

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.