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Murrells Inlet magistrate: Investigator says Joliff a good choice

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A private investigator’s report says there’s nothing in Dave Jolliff’s work history as a police officer that would disqualify him from serving as magistrate in Murrells Inlet. And it raises questions about one of two incidents for which he was suspended during his 12 years with the Horry County Police Department.

State Sen. Ray Cleary plans to nominate Jolliff to replace Magistrate Bill Moeller, who has reached the mandatory retirement age. Magistrates are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

“I need to sit down with the governor and see where they’re at as far as comfort level,” Cleary said.

His choice of Jolliff angered some inlet residents and fellow Republicans who wanted him to nominate Steve Pop, a state wildlife officer who lives in Litchfield. Concerns were fueled by the release of disciplinary reports by Horry County in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act to see Jolliff’s personnel file.

Jolliff was suspended for seven days in 1998 when he and another rookie officer left a police car with guns in the trunk outside a Columbia bar while they were at the Criminal Justice Academy. He was suspended for a day in 2006 after someone complained that he urinated on an expensive sports car parked outside a bar on Bypass 17.

The investigator, Steve Smith, who retired as an assistant director of the State Law Enforcement Division, said there was only one such car in the state at the time, a 2006 Ford Shelby Mustang. Smith said the owner, Bill Vaught, told him he wasn’t aware of anyone urinating on the car.

“He said he did not want to get in the middle of all of this involving the magistrate’s position,” Smith wrote. “But he could neither confirm nor deny anything happened to his car.”

Yet Vaught later told him “he had no knowledge of anybody ever doing anything to his vehicle,” Smith said.

As to the incident in 1998, Smith said Jolliff’s performance review that year didn’t mention it. Jolliff’s grade was at the upper end of the range for “meets expectations.”

The other officer involved now has a career in federal law enforcement, Smith said.

Smith was paid $1,500 from Cleary’s personal funds for the investigation. He said his instructions were “to conduct an impartial, unbiased, honest and fair background check.”

Only one person at the Horry County Police Department, from which Jolliff resigned last year, spoke with Smith, and that was to say he couldn’t comment. A retired officer whom Smith declined to name in the report said if the chief at the time had felt the 1998 incident was serious, he would have fired Jolliff. The chief “saw this as a young officer showing bad judgment,” the retiree said.

He talked with two law enforcement officers from Horry County. Paul Butler, chief deputy of the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, said he didn’t know much about Jolliff “because he seemed to do his work in a low key way.”

Bill Knowles, head of the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit, said he had never worked with Jolliff, but added that “he hated all the negative publicity against Jolliff.”

Smith also spoke with a member of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Florence and an assistant U.S. attorney who worked with Jolliff when he was assigned to the DEA task force. They praised Jolliff’s work and pointed out that the DEA background check would have uncovered any misconduct and kept him out of the unit, Smith said.

The attorney, Brad Parham, said “he never heard anything negative regarding Jolliff until after he surfaced for consideration for the magistrate’s job,” according to Smith’s report. And Parham pointed out Horry County Police had to nominate Jolliff for the DEA task force.

Smith also interviewed Jolliff and looked at his personnel file. He said his career path shows “a logical progression for an officer who is working hard and has shown a desire to move up.”

“If his law enforcement career is any indication, he will make an excellent magistrate,” Smith concludes.

He said Jolliff’s experience with the drug task force is a plus because it gives him experience with preparing warrants. “Narcotics officers require a greater knowledge of probable cause than the average officer because of their constant preparation of those warrants,” Smith said.

Jolliff said this week he feels vindicated by the report.

“I just applied for a job,” he said. “I didn’t know there’d be this level of hostility.” Smith’s report also notes people he talked to thought it was unusual that the disciplinary reports were kept after Jolliff’s annual performance reviews.

“It was a hatchet job,” Cleary said.

But Smith’s report isn’t likely to satisfy Cleary’s critics.

“I guess you get what you pay for,” said Tom Swatzel, an inlet resident who opposes the Jolliff nomination. He is also the out-going chairman of the county Republican Party. “Sen. Cleary spent his own money to produce a report that would have a known outcome.”

Swatzel said he doubts that any form of investigation would satisfy opponents of the nomination because the nature of the two incidents for which Jolliff was disciplined casts doubt on his judgment.

However, he said there is still time to create a screening committee for the appointment, a process Cleary said last week he will use the next time there is a vacant magistrate’s position.

Swatzel said he would be more comfortable with Jolliff if he went through such a screening, even though he doubts he would emerge as the top recommendation.

Meanwhile, Jolliff said he is spending his time as a “househusband” and working on his master’s degree in theology.

“I have prayed a lot,” he said.

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