Originally created 09/09/04

Williston looks for change



WILLISTON - Complaints directed at the Williston Police Department have largely subsided in the months since black residents marched on town hall, while protesters await the results of a SLED investigation into a white officer's conduct.

Ted Bellinger, the president of the African-American Concerned Citizens Group, said there have been no new complaints over police misconduct since about 30 members of the black community addressed town council members in a July meeting.

Mr. Bellinger, however, said his group still demands the firing of Williston Police Officer Scott Harper, whom they accuse of being overzealous and of harassing blacks.

"He needs to go," Mr. Bellinger said. "If we don't get some results by the end of this month, we're prepared to march every month."

According to records obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, at least nine complaints have been filed against Officer Harper since he joined the force three years ago, most accusing him of rude treatment or overzealous traffic stops.

The conflict came to a head after a disputed incident in June during which Officer Harper arrested a Williston woman at her home on an outstanding probation warrant.

LaKenya Cuthbertson said Officer Harper took her to jail without allowing her to arrange for someone to watch her two young children.

After the July protest, town officials requested that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigate the incident. SLED will report its findings to 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan. The investigation remained open Wednesday, the agency spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson said.

Officer Harper does not have a listed phone number, and the Williston Police Department has referred all questions to Town Manager Scott Neely.

Mr. Neely said Wednesday he expected the inquiry to be near completion. He said there had been no new complaints or requests to address the council since July.

While he acknowledged the controversy had cooled down some, Mr. Neely added: "It could possibly become a hot-button issue again."

Mr. Bellinger said police have "curtailed" what he described as harassment of blacks since the protest and is optimistic that Mrs. Morgan will take appropriate action once the report reaches her desk.

"She told me as soon as SLED released it to her, she'd act upon it," Mr. Bellinger said. "I think she's fair, and she'll do what's right."

Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or stephen.gurr@augustachronicle.com.