NARCOTICS UNIT LEADER DEMOTED
Police won't give details on former lieutenant's actions
Charleston Police Department demoted a veteran narcotics unit supervisor Tuesday after an internal affairs investigation found he had violated the department's rules and procedures, authorities said.
James Mackey was reduced in rank from lieutenant to private, a stinging, precipitous drop that all but erases the gains he made during an 18-year rise through the department.
Though police officials say the action closes the case, state investigators have been asked to open a separate probe into Mackey's conduct.
Police officials announced the demotion late Tuesday in a terse statement that avoided specifics about the allegations, saying only that Mackey made decisions that "were contrary to the rules and regulations of the Charleston Police Department." They would not cite what regulations were violated, saying the matter is a personnel issue.
"We issued a statement, and that is going to be it," said Charles Francis, a police spokesman.
Lt. Col. Ned Hethington, the city's acting police chief, said investigators found nothing that would rise to the level of a criminal violation and that the department considers the matter closed.
"This is a pretty serious penalty for a pretty serious matter," he said.
But 9th Circuit Solicitor Ralph Hoisington said he has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate. He also declined to discuss specifics, saying only that "certain issues" had been brought to his attention.
"Any time you have serious allegations about the legality of a law enforcement officer's actions, they should be explored," he said.
The state attorney general's office also is involved in the case and will assist Hoisington in any decision regarding prosecution of criminal charges, said Trey Walker, a spokesman for the agency. Walker said the possibility exists that the case might be referred to a statewide grand jury for consideration.
Reached late Tuesday, Mackey said he wanted to speak with his attorney before commenting on the matter.Mackey was placed in charge of the narcotics unit about a year ago, Hethington said. He was pulled from that assignment about a month ago and placed in an administrative position while the internal probe continued, he said.
Mackey was known as an aggressive leader who often drew attention for high-profile drug busts and sweeps to eliminate narcotics from neighborhoods.
DrugBust.jpg FILE/WADE SPEES/STAFF James Mackey of the Charleston Police was demoted to private
In November, he helped lead about 40 Charleston police officers through three public housing complexes in an effort to clear out drug dealers and other troublemakers, the first operation of its kind in about a decade.
The same month, he led a massive sweep through downtown Charleston, West Ashley and James Island, as police sought out 29 suspected drug dealers and raided four houses.
By day's end, the operation had netted a large amount of cocaine, a handgun and $43,000 in cash suspected to have been used in drug deals, police said.
Charleston City Councilman Wendell Gilliard questioned the decision to demote Mackey. He said he and neighborhood leaders are concerned that removing the officer from the narcotics squad will hamper efforts to clamp down on the drug trade.
"You cannot have a better person to come into this position," he said. "He's a trailblazer ... and we've never seen anything but results from this gentleman."
Hethington said the internal probe was launched in the past 60 days after police officers brought concerns about Mackey's actions to the department's attention.
The investigation resulted in an officer review board composed of six police command officials who met Friday and Monday to consider the case. The board then made recommendations for possible punishment to Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, who accepted the panel's findings Monday and demoted Mackey, police said.
No evidence indicates that problems extended to the narcotics unit as a whole, Hethington said.
"The unit is good, it's fine," he said. "They do a great job."