City asks state to review Baccus incident
By Bobby Bryant
After meeting in private for two hours last week, Darlington City Council voted to ask the Governor’s Office and State Ethics Commission to review an incident in which councilwoman Sheila Baccus allegedly made racial remarks to a city police officer who gave her a parking ticket.
Council members have gotten “hundreds” of phone calls about the June 17 incident since it was reported on Florence TV stations a few weeks ago, one council member said.
Staffers at City Hall also have been flooded with calls asking the mayor or council to “fire” Baccus, not understanding that elected officials can only be removed by the governor, and only for serious crimes.
Council scheduled a special called meeting July 21 to talk about the incident, and nearly all of the meeting took place in executive session in a small room off the basketball arena at Harmon Baldwin Gym, chosen to allow more spectators while still “social distancing.”
A few minutes into the 6 p.m. meeting, council quickly went into executive session to discuss what the agenda listed as “a Police Department, City Council and personnel matter.” (Baccus and councilwoman Elaine Reed voted against the executive session.) Police Chief Kelvin Washington, City Manager Howard Garland and city attorney Kevin Etheridge joined council members in the private session.
About 30 citizens, most of them face-masked, waited on folding chairs placed at 6-foot intervals around the basketball court. Just over two hours later, council emerged and went back into public session.
“We’ve done what we think we can do to try to work with each other,” Mayor Curtis Boyd told the audience. “Everyone on this council is here – myself and all the council members are here – for the betterment of the city. We love our city. We love everyone in it.”
Boyd asked if any council member wanted to make a motion to turn the matter they’d been discussing over to the city attorney, who would then refer it to the State Ethics Commission and to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s office.
There was silence for 30 seconds.
“Do I have a motion?” Boyd asked again.
Councilman John Milling spoke: “I would make a motion, since we are not able to get the matter resolved, that we instruct our attorney to turn it over to those officials who have the authority to make decisions, as to what needs to be done, if anything. …”
Councilman John Segars seconded the motion and it was approved.
Boyd told the audience, “What our world today needs, and the reason I have this (microphone) today, what our world today needs is Jesus Christ.” There was some applause from the audience.
Councilwoman Reed took the microphone to address the audience. She called on residents to work together and “stop fighting each other.” She said each council member “received hundreds of calls” about the Baccus incident. “That one incident should not determine how we handle things in the city of Darlington.”
Baccus made no comments during the public portions of the meeting. She has declined to comment to news media about the incident.
The incident that began the controversy took place June 17 when a white city police officer left a parking ticket on the windshield of an SUV belonging to Baccus, who is African-American. The officer said the vehicle was parked on the wrong side of the road on Oak Street.
According to an incident report written by the officer, Baccus and another woman approached him. Baccus told the officer, according to the incident report, “Why are you harassing us? You don’t have anything better to do than write parking tickets?”
He suggested she contact Darlington’s police chief if she felt there was a problem with his actions. According to the incident report, Baccus made a phone call and said, “The chief said he will take care of this ticket.”
According to the incident report, Baccus told the officer: “Take your white self back to the white neighborhood. …You’re probably the kind that would shoot us in the back.”
Chief Washington told local news media, “The officer handled this interaction with Councilwoman Baccus with the highest level of professionalism and he has my complete support. He did nothing wrong and said nothing wrong.” The police chief said the ticket was paid.
As of midweek last week, an online petition to have Baccus removed from office by the governor had more than 400 signatures.