Source: Interim Chief Ruben Santiago not a finalist for full-tim -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Source: Interim Chief Ruben Santiago not a finalist for full-time chief's position


A source close to the situation says Columbia Police Interim Chief Ruben Santiago has been offered the chance to become assistant police chief but will not be given the opportunity to become the full-time chief.

The news comes after members of a special search committee said that a list of 50 applicants had been whittled down to just five.

The timeline for putting a new police chief into office in Columbia is getting short. City Manager Teresa Wilson has only a few weeks left to hire someone if she's going to stick to her schedule.

Wilson said last fall she planned on having a new permanent chief in place by March.

"This approach allows me to not only conduct a very thorough national search, with individuals who intimately understand our community but they're also highly respected and knowledgeable in the law enforcement arena," said Wilson in late November.

In that news conference, Wilson was revealing the five member committee of police and prosecutorial veterans who would do much of the legwork in vetting candidates for chief.

Those five have chosen five and the finalists names are in Wilson's hands. Attorney and former prosecutor Robert Bolchoz chaired the group.

"Most of them have a lot of experience working in places where there's diverse community, working in places where there's other law enforcement agencies adjacent to their prior jurisdictions," said Bolchoz.

Bolchoz, two former police chiefs, the ex-director of the Department of Corrections, and a former FBI special agent brought the pool of candidates down to a dozen who were interviewed through videoconferences.

"Different questions, but obviously questions that we thought would help us understand how they might deal with, how that person would deal with challenges here but also how that person would fit in with the community as a whole," said Bolchoz.

Bolchoz would not confirm if Santiago was on that list.

"I'm not going to be the one to release the names on that list," said Bolchoz. "I think it's not fair to the city for me to be the one to broadcast those names, mainly it's because in part, they've got certain things they've got to accomplish before they put those names out, contacting these folks to give them a heads up."

While the chairman declined to say whether Santiago made the cut, his fans were worried he did not. And last Thursday, that led to a heated discussion between Bolchoz and Santiago supporter and former mayoral candidate Larry Sypolt at Henry's Bar and Restaurant on Devine Street.

By phone, Sypolt today told WIS that based on Santiago's performance since being named interim, there's no good reason other than "politics" for not including him as a finalist.

Santiago's campaign to win the permanent job has been made far more difficult by allegations from former Capt. Dave Navarro, accusing Santiago of engineering a plan to destroy the career of a top city official in order to win the chief's office.

Those claims led to SLED and FBI investigations and the results have been turned over to 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins for independent review before Christmas. A spokeswoman for that office says Wilkins' assessment of the reports should be wrapped up in seven to 10 days. 

Solicitor Dan Johnson says it would not be appropriate to speed up the evaluation because he says you don't put deadlines on investigations.

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