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Inlet magistrate: Cleary hires investigator to review nominee's background

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A contingent of Murrells Inlet residents are pushing state Sen. Ray Cleary to eliminate Dave Jolliff as a candidate for the community’s next magistrate, but Cleary said he won’t rush into a decision.

Instead, he’ll take his time in having Jolliff vetted to insure the best person for the job is selected and that Jolliff is given a fair shake, as well as a chance to clear his name of claims against him.

“It would probably be better for me politically to rush it,” Cleary admitted. But “if I rush it the one way and say I still think Dave Jolliff is a great guy, I’m being careless. If I rush it the other way, I’m being uncaring by not hearing his side of the story.”

Luckily, he added, “there isn’t an immediacy to this,” so he has time to examine the matter properly. The current magistrate, Bill Moeller, won’t finish his term until the end of April and state law allows him to remain in office until the end of June.

In the meantime, Jolliff a former undercover narcotics investigator, will undergo a background check by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, and a more extensive probe by a private consultant Cleary has commissioned.

He wouldn’t identify the consultant, but said it is someone with “tremendous respect in the law enforcement community” who was recommended by Robert Stewart, who headed SLED for many years.

Jolliff is cooperating fully and the consultant will have full access to his background and work history with the Horry County Police Department.

Cleary hired the consultant after some inlet residents expressed concerns that a check by SLED would yield only information regarding criminal history.

If Jolliff had refused to cooperate, Cleary said he would have withdrawn his nomination, “but he did just the opposite. He said ‘I want somebody to review it.’ ”

Cleary didn’t give the consultant a time frame for finishing his investigation.

“I take these things seriously. I want to get to the basis of these allegations and if [Jolliff] is willing to go through it, I should be willing to give whatever time it takes.” Unofficially some Georgetown County officials have said they wouldn’t mind if the magistrate’s seat remained open past Moeller’s retirement in June. That would allow the county to save money earmarked for the magistrate’s salary until someone was appointed.

In Georgetown County, magistrates earn $58,798 a year, except for the chief magistrate, who is paid $61,806 a year.

When a magistrate’s seat opened elsewhere in the county several years ago, a County Council member at the time asked that the seat not be filled for a while, arguing that the county’s other magistrates could handle the work load. He was quickly and sternly reprimanded by state Chief Justice Jean Toal.

According to the S.C. Association of Counties, counties are authorized to have one magistrate per 28,000 residents or per every 150 square miles. Additional magistrates can be appointed in counties that collect at least $500,000 in accommodations tax revenue.

Georgetown has six magistrates. Its population is around 61,000 according to preliminary 2010 census figures, and it has a total area of 1,035 square miles.

Cleary said he’ll make his decision on Jolliff once he has reviewed the background check and the consultant’s report and feels he has all the facts. That should tell him who the real Dave Jolliff is.

Though Jolliff has been portrayed as “a terrible policeman,” he has been recognized for his service by local and federal agencies and has an extensive list of training and certifications.

“It sounds like we’re talking about two different people,” Cleary said.

Cleary met Jolliff nine months to a year ago, he said. They were introduced by Jolliff’s sister, Kari Collins. Her son and Cleary’s grandson are playmates.

Cleary declared Jolliff as his nominee late last year and quickly started taking heat from Murrells Inlet residents and county officials who favor Steve Pop, an officer with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, for the job.

Many said they had no problem with Jolliff, but wanted Cleary to consider their input before he made his nomination.

Jolliff came under fire last month after Horry County released a letter the former head of the Horry County Police narcotics division, Larry Muncey, wrote in 2006 criticizing Jolliff’s behavior and demeanor. It also recommended reassigning Jolliff after claims that he urinated on a citizen’s car outside a bar and left the scene after wrecking his car while intoxicated.

Additional documents were released the following week showing claims about the wreck were untrue, but that Jolliff admitted to urinating on the car.

Jolliff also received a five-day suspension in 1998, after he drove a marked county police vehicle to a restaurant while attending the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia and left it there overnight, unattended and unsecured with firearms inside.

The documents are not part of Jolliff’s personnel file, said his attorney, David DuRant.

“From what some people have told me, it was a hatchet job,” Cleary said. He is suspicious of the fact that documents exonerating Jolliff from at least one serious claim against him weren’t released until a week after the initial letter. He also criticized how the documents were mass distributed. Cleary said concerns should have been brought to his attention first.

He also said he believes the documents were released with malicious intent by David Beaty, deputy chief of the Horry County Police Department, who Cleary said asked for and was denied the magistrate’s job.

“He is now denying he asked for the job, but I have e-mails from him that prove it,” Cleary said.

Beaty declined to comment.

Johnny Lewis, a Murrells Inlet business owner, started a petition about a month ago asking Cleary to nominate Pop instead of Jolliff. It is unknown how many people have signed the petition and Cleary said he has not seen it.

At this point, Cleary said, he thinks the best thing is for folks to “settle down and calm down” while the investigation of Jolliff takes place.

“I’ve had seven years as senator for this area and I’ve always tried to use good judgment and been reasoned in my approach,” he said. He asks constituents to trust him to do that now and be patient during the process.

“It’s more important to me to be thorough than quick,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’ll make a decision that won’t be based on innuendo, half-truths, gossip and mud slinging.”

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