Meet Mark Keel – (NOMINEE) Director of Public Safety

I’ve posted before about how well our area represents the state and county when it comes to Law Enforcement so it should come as no surprise how one of our own is the nominee to lead the Department of Public Safety.

From today’s The State

Sanford taps SLED veteran to lead Public Safety

By RICK BRUNDRETT and CLIF LeBLANC – rbrundrett@thestate.com cleblanc@thestate.com

Gov. Mark Sanford has nominated Mark Keel — whom he passed over to lead the State Law Enforcement Division — as his nominee to head the embattled S.C. Department of Public Safety.

Keel, a Barnwell native and 28-year veteran of SLED, is currently one of two assistant directors in that agency, behind Chief Reggie Lloyd and Deputy Director Neal Dolan. Keel had been the No. 2 person in the agency under longtime chief Robert Stewart, serving as his chief of staff and agency lawyer.

If confirmed, Keel would take over an agency that has been in turmoil since Sanford’s Feb. 29 decision that forced the resignations of Department of Public Safety Director James Schweitzer and Highway Patrol commander Col. Russell Roark.

They stepped aside after a dashboard video surfaced showing a white trooper using a racial slur and threatening to kill a black suspect and others showing different types of questionable behavior by troopers.

Legislative Black Caucus members had been complaining for several years about problems within the agency, including discrimination in promotions and disciplinary action.

“Mark brings very impressive qualifications as both a law enforcement officer and an agency administrator, and I think those considerable skills will be put to good use at the Department of Public Safety,” Sanford said.

“In talking to folks in the law enforcement community, what we’ve heard consistently is that Mark is a straight shooter and has real personal integrity, and I think in sorting through issues over at SLED that both of these traits are very important.”

“He has been personally responsible for instituting a number of systems at SLED that line up with what this administration believes about the need for no tolerance for race-based behavior or language, a clear promotions system, and clear standards on procedure and discipline.”

Keel said he is looking forward to the challenge or rebuilding the department’s credibility.

“While I share the governor’s belief that by and large the men and women at the Highway Patrol and DPS as a whole are doing their jobs with professionalism on a day-to-day basis, I recognize that there is work to be done,” he said. “I look forward to beginning that work after the confirmation process.”

Even before the nomination was official, though, it raised concerns for at least one black lawmaker.

Rep. Leon Howard, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Wednesday he has heard complaints about Keel’s nomination from some black constituents.

“I’ve not gotten one call to say they support Mark Keel,” said Howard, D-Richland. “I’ve gotten five or six calls this morning from folks… that he would not be a good nominee. They would be terrified of having Mark Keel in charge.”

Howard said he was repeating what he has head and is speaking publicly only for himself, not the caucus. The caucus has not taken a position on the nomination. Howard would not name who complained but said they are people he knows.

“I’m going to trust the Senate to do a thorough investigation of him as they would any nominee, and to slow the process and take their time,” he said.

Howard said he has never met Keel. “I’m not rushing to judgment. I’m not opposed to Mark Keel yet.”

Sanford in November named Keel the interim SLED chief after the veteran Stewart announced he was stepping down to start a consulting business.

Keel had strong support in the law enforcement community for the permanent SLED position, but Sanford in January surprised many when he chose Reggie Lloyd — then the U.S. attorney for South Carolina — as his nominee.

In nominating Lloyd, who is black, over Keel, who is white, Sanford said it was important to promote diversity within the agency and among his 15-member cabinet. Lloyd quickly sailed through the Senate confirmation process, becoming the first African-American to lead the agency.

Keel would have to be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and full Senate to be formally confirmed.

Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity also said Keel and Schweitzer recently applied for the vacant director’s job at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy — a position not controlled directly by the governor. The academy trains and certifies officers statewide.

Keel’s resume is extensive. He worked at the Denmark and Barnwell police departments and Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Department before joining SLED in 1979. During his tenure at SLED, Keel has served as the tactical operations captain, a SWAT team member, a hostage negotiator, a member of the bloodhound tracking team, and a helicopter pilot. He also put himself through the USC School of Law while working at SLED.

Sanford said he decided not to renominate Schweitzer for another four-year term after viewing a patrol-car videotape of a white trooper making a racial slur while threatening to kill a fleeing black motorist during a 2004 Greenwood County traffic stop. Sanford said the trooper, who was ordered to undergo counseling, should have been fired.

The State newspaper obtained that tape and seven others showing questionable behavior by troopers. The U.S. attorney for South Carolina, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, FBI, SLED and a special Senate Judiciary panel have launched investigations into the allegations.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 771-8484, LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.