PICKENS – A former Pickens police officer offered on Thursday his version of events that led to his termination after Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was cited for speeding.
“The law should be enforced in a fair manner and applied equally to everyone,” said Michael McClatchy, who was allegedly fired after he blogged about issuing a citation to Swinney earlier this month. “I took a solemn oath to do just that, and that is what I did.”
During a statement that lasted nearly 10 minutes, McClatchy outlined a timeline of his version of events, starting with a conversation he had with Pickens Police Chief Rodney Gregory the day after issuing the citation.
McClatchy said he told Gregory of his intent to address the citation online. McClatchy also said Thursday that Mayor David Owens tried to call him during the traffic stop but McClatchy didn’t take the call. He said he thinks Owens was angry about that and that the anger might have something to do with the termination. The mayor said in a written statement following the press conference he did not try to affect the officer’s decisions regarding the ticketing.
McClatchy said he also learned that Gregory reduced Swinney’s charges after the initial citation.
Gregory said after McClatchy was fired that the officer acted professionally in regard to the citation.
McClatchy admitted to using a city computer to correct a gramatical error in his post, but the original post was made from his home computer while he was off duty.
He said the termination process lacked proper communication. He then stated he was acting as he was trained and was trying to provide equal treatment for all.
“After returning to work on Sept. 4, I spoke to Chief Gregory in the Police Department parking lot about the traffic stop,” said McClatchy. “Gregory informed me that Mr. Dabo Swinney called him at his residence at about 9 p.m. after the traffic stop. He also informed me that Mr. Dabo Swinney was displeased with the way I handled the traffic stop, and that I acted unprofessionally. Chief Gregory informed me that he had watched the dashcam video, and that I had acted in a professional manner.”
McClatchy said he told the chief that he had intentions to tell his side of the story online.
“During that same conversation, I advised Chief Gregory that I had located several online Internet posts regarding the traffic stop, and advised him of my intention of setting the record straight with my account of the traffic stop,” said McClatchy. “His reply was, ‘Hell, it’s just a speeding ticket. Just don’t put my name out there,’ in a humorous manner.”
McClatchy said he and Gregory had another conversation Sept. 6 regarding the traffic stop.
“I was informed by Chief Gregory that he had reduced my citation even further to a two point violation and an $81.50 fine,” said McClatchy. “Gregory advised me that the payment had already been received from Mr. Swinney, along with a letter of apology. During the same visit with Chief Gregory, he and I, along with other officers, viewed an Internet article posted in regard to the traffic stop. This was viewed on a city owned computer. Between the dates of Sept. 4 and Sept. 11, there was much scrutiny surrounding the issue of the traffic ticket.”
McClatchy said Internet use is common among Pickens Police Department employees.
“Due to the continued attention and inaccurate information surrounding the traffic stop, on Sept. 12 at around 12:30 a.m., from a personal computer at my residence, I posted an accurate statement of events online,” said McClatchy. “On Sept. 14 at 3:37 a.m., I made a grammatical correction to the post while at work, which resulted in an edited time stamp at the bottom of the post. The original post was not created during my work time, and I have documentation from the website confirming this.
“The city was not aware of this because they never questioned me about the incident resulting in my termination,” he said.
McClatchy also said he was approached by the manager of a nearby grocery store who told him that Owens was on the phone and wanted to talk to him. “I declined the call because I was conducting a traffic stop,” McClatchy said, adding that he believes that had something to do with his firing.
“Several colleagues made the statement, ‘It’s been nice working with you,’” said McClatchy. “I was told on more than one occasion that the mayor was angry that I didn’t take his call on the traffic stop. I believe the speeding ticket would have been completely done away with if it had not been for my expressed desire to avoid preferential treatment for the guilty driver.”
The mayor said in a written statement, “Just to clarify, I did not call the Manager of Bi-Lo or any police officer or the Chief of Police on the evening of the traffic stop. The manager of Bi-Lo called me to inform me of the chaos being caused at Bi-Lo related to the incident. I did not call him. I did ask to speak to the officer involved and when I was informed he was unable to come to the phone, I spoke with the other officer involved at the scene. I told them to continue doing their job and follow the proper procedures because there were a lot of people watching. I never said anything regarding how the ticket should be handled that day or at any time after the traffic stop. The next day, after reviewing the video, I even told Chief Gregory to commend the officers on their professional handling of the situation. I also told Mr. McClatchy personally that he did a great job and that I had seen the video and he handled himself very professionally. I took no part in the decision to terminate him and did not even know until later that day.”
Attempts to talk to Gregory after the Thursday press conference were unsuccessful. He said earlier in the week, that after reviewing a recording of the traffic stop, he is confident McClatchy made the right decision ticketing Swinney.
McClatchy said Gregory called him Sept. 17 and asked him to turn in his equipment and resign from his position. McClatchy said when he refused, he was fired via telephone. McClatchy said he asked Gregory for a written explanation for his termination and Gregory replied: “Bring me my stuff and I will leave it for you.”
“I returned all my equipment the same day, but a letter of termination was not provided,” said McClatchy.
McClatchy said he discovered an “employee warning report” in a news article regarding his termination, and said he received a copy of the report by mail on Sept. 21. McClatchy said he had never seen it and was never notified of the information in it.
“Incidentally, during my time at Pickens, I observed several infractions that were serious and sometimes (unlawful) by other fellow officers,” said McClatchy. “Most of these infractions were addressed with no discipline taken, (and) were much more serious than the reason claimed for my termination. I was wrongfully terminated for doing my job.”