Serving Barnwell County and it's neighbors since 1852

S.C. Criminal Justice Academy 'troubled' by Blackville Police Department's 'flagrant disregard' for state law


The Blackville Police Department (BPD) has been found non-compliant with state law and one of its commanding officers is under investigation.
The Criminal Justice Academy (CJA) sent a letter on May 22 notifying Chief Ray Crawford and Mayor Ronnie Pernell that BPD was “not in compliance with either South Carolina statutes, South Carolina regulations, or Law Enforcement Training Council (LETC) orders.”
A second May 22 letter from CJA informs Chief Crawford of the active investigation against BPD Lieutenant Brian Gray for “willfully falsifying material information” submitted to the state agency.
This comes after three officers left the department in late April. Official resignation letters submitted to the town state these officers left for varying reasons.

CJA first found BPD non-compliant in March when the department did not submit their roster upon request. Mayor Pernell and Chief Crawford were notified on March 29, 2024 the roster had not been submitted, and CJA granted an additional 30 days to do so. According to Chief Crawford, CJA initially sent the roster request letter to an outdated email address on file, causing the oversight. CJA confirmed to The People-Sentinel roster requests are sent to departments via email.
It is the role of CJA to evaluate law enforcement departments and ensure they have proper policies established in correlation with state law, in addition to enacting civil penalties when they do not.
CJA requests rosters from departments across the state to ensure it matches with their ACADIS records. ACADIS, a management system which maintains training records and officer credentials, was established throughout 2014 and 2015.
CJA Director Lewis Swindler said the agency audits departments to ensure those listed on the roster are still employed by the department and in proper status. An investigation or an audit from CJA can be from random routine selection, or stem from a citizen or officer complaint.
According to an investigator for CJA, the department has since submitted an updated roster. However, this letter serves as the first non-compliance warning.

On May 22, 2024, a letter was sent to Lieutenant Brian H. Gray to inform him of the investigation against him by CJA for “willfully falsifying material information provided to the Criminal Justice Academy,” relating to submitting PCS of Hire and firearm forms – two documents required by the academy when a department is making a new hire.
In this letter, CJA cited S.C. Code of Regulations Section 37-026, which essentially states a law enforcement officer can have their certification withdrawn in the event such as this.
According to Chief Crawford, the material information stated is referring to documentation sent to CJA during the training process for new hires, such as these forms.
“I guess it was inaccurate, whatever he sent up there during the hiring process,” said Chief Crawford. “They have a way you have to do it and Gray didn’t know, and by him going to the training and that class, he now knows how to do it.”
Gray has been working at BPD before Crawford was hired as chief in 2021 and has previously been employed by other departments. These CJA regulations and policies have been in place for a while, as the agency was created in the late 1960s.

When CJA begins investigating an agency they look for things such as: “Do they have the correct officers? Are they trained correctly up to date? And do they have them working in the proper status and position for which they have a certification for?” said Swindler.
The May 22 letter outlines the laws in which CJA enforces, including S.C. Code Section 23-23-100 and the ways in which the state agency has found BPD to be non-compliant.  “It has come to my attention that you are not abiding by the requirements of submitting a PCS of Hire form within three working days of hire and a firearms verification form within three working days of the PCS of Hire, as required by law,” states the letter signed by Swindler.
“You have to have certain things during the process of hiring, mainly just communication with the training officer with the academy, which he did it in a different way,” said Chief Crawford, referring to Gray’s submission of the PCS of Hire and firearms forms.
BPD not submitting these forms in the time frame means the department has “allowed individuals who do not have law enforcement authority to act in the capacity of law enforcement officers.”
The letter continues to state the same individuals without proper authority were being allowed to “work alone and not while accompanied by a certified law enforcement officer.” If the aforementioned forms are not filed properly during the hiring process, the officer is not fully able to patrol independently.
Other areas CJA takes note of is if a department is not following regulations as to proper paperwork and documentation or proper background checks, both areas cited in BPD’s second non-compliance letter.
Regarding background checks on new hires, “on numerous occasions your agency has failed to contact a member of a previous agency’s command staff to discuss the terms of the officer’s separation,” states the letter.
The second non-compliance warning letter states the agency’s next violation of state law “will result in CJA seeking a civil penalty not to exceed one thousand dollars per violation per day the agency is not in compliance.”
Swindler also has the authority to hold all the certifications of BPD officers until the department comes into compliance.
In the event compliance is not met and certifications are pulled, it is the duty of the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office to police the town.
“The citizens in the towns are still our citizens and we’re going to take care of them,” said Sheriff Steve Griffith.

At town council meetings and in conversations with The People-Sentinel, Mayor Pernell explained he is the conduit to address the department’s complaints and rarely sees any validity in the complaints he is brought.
According to section 13.206 of the town’s police policies, public discussion of the department is prohibited stating, “no personnel shall discuss the activities or employees of the department with the general public. Complaints shall be made in accordance with the chain of command established by the mayor.”
Numerous complaints have been sent or called into the newspaper or directly to reporters regarding policing in Blackville; many of which were expressed at an August 2023 community forum held by the department.
At the forum, Mayor Pernell explained that since his election in June 2022, he has not received any evidence indicative of a BPD officer doing “anything illegally, immoral, or wrong,” he said.
Mayor Pernell is still finding a similar sentiment today.
“All of the people that come in with complaints, and I go to look at the camera or the film, I can see how it escalates because of their behavior,” said the mayor.
“Being a former police officer, when I investigate, the public sometimes their attitude is not the best,” said Mayor Pernell to The People-Sentinel on April 25, 2024.
Mayor Pernell met with BPD command staff (Chief Crawford, Lt. Gray, and Captain L. Huggins) after the resignation of the three officers back in April.
“Basically there was a miscommunication between the command staff and them… if I would have gotten wind of it prior to that, I probably could have resolved some of the little issues that they had,” said Mayor Pernell. “They felt like they weren’t being heard enough.”
According to Chief Crawford and Mayor Pernell, one of the officers resigned and moved to another county, and the other two moved to another department.
“It was a big communication gap, and I think if I were to have gotten ahead of it it would have been resolved easily,” he said.
Mayor Pernell said he asked the officers numerous times to come to him with any complaints, and they “didn’t give him a chance to intervene.”
The People-Sentinel asked Mayor Pernell what will be done to address future community or officer complaints.
After the three recent resignations, Mayor Pernell and Administrator Fonda Patrick plan to meet with new hires to see if they need more training; “Officers are not given the proper training sometimes to deal with situations, and I think that's where the overall police force is trying to get to,” said the mayor.
According to Swindler, CJA routinely offers additional training opportunities outside of an officer’s initial academic training.
Mayor Pernell also explained “the chief still has some things he has to mature on” and how soft skills training might be beneficial.
“I think that's a lack of training that they should need to be able to be more sympathetic with the public,” said Mayor Pernell.
Currently, BPD has the three command staff members, two recent hires, and two officers training to become certified, according to Mayor Pernell.