Fired officer says she was made a scapegoat in Sponseller case

On Tuesday, Isa Greene, a former deputy chief for the department, says she was made a scapegoat after it took police more than a week to find SC Hospitality chief Tom Sponseller in a building investigators say they had searched three previous times.

COLUMBIA (WACH) - A former senior official from the Columbia Police Department who was fired in the wake of the search for a missing Columbia executive says she was unfairly treated.

On Tuesday, Isa Greene, a former Deputy Chief of Administration and Investigations, said she was made a scapegoat after it took police more than a week to find SC Hospitality Association chief Tom Sponseller in a building investigators say they had searched three previous times.

In early March, Columbia police chief Randy Scott fired Greene and accepted the resignation of Investigations Captain J.P. Smith.

"I have not been popular with them because I go strictly by policy and procedure," said Greene. "That's me. I've been my whole career like that."

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Sponseller's family reported him missing on February 18. His body was not found until ten days later. Sponseller was found in a locked room-within-a-room in a downtown Columbia parking garage attached to his Lady Street office. The coroner confirmed he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Greene says she was on vacation when Sponseller was first reported missing and did not return until two days later, pointing out the first 48 hours of such an investigation are the most critical in situations like the Sponseller case.

However, records released by the city late Tuesday challenge Greene's claim.

Leave request records confirm that Greene was approved for leave from Tuesday, February 14 through Friday, February 17. Sponseller disappeared Saturday February 18. Leave was also approved for Thursday, February 23.

Greene says her supervisor was involved in the investigation those first two days and failed to properly search Sponseller's desk, where a suicide note was later found by a hospitality association employee.

"If a family member of yours is missing you want us to do everything you possibly can or look every possible place we could to make sure we have enough information," said Greene.

There was significant public outcry after it took more than a week to find Sponseller. After he was found, Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott immediately launched an internal investigation into the case. That probe led to Green's firing and Smith's resignation.

On Tuesday, Scott responded to Greeneâ??s account of the case and allegations that she was treated unfairly when she was terminated.

Scott says on Saturday and Sunday, February 18 and February 19 a Metro Region officer and the Investigations Division Captain, who reported directly to Greene, were in charge of operations at Sponseller's Lady Street building on those days, respectively.

During the investigation, Scott says he asked then-Deputy Chief Greene whether the former's CEO's building and parking garage, where he was last seen, had been thoroughly searched. According to Scott, on each occasion Greene replied that the entire building had been completely searched.

The chief says he also directed Greene two additional times to search the entire building and parking garage again, including the elevator shaft. Police had received a Crimestoppers tip to look in that shaft. On each occasion Scott says Greene reported that the additional searches had been conducted.

Scott says he stands by his decision to fire Greene and said he did so primarily because of "incorrect information" Greene provided him during the period February 20 through February 28.

Still, Greene contends there is more to the story.

"A lot more has to be said before this thing is resolved," said Greene. "Nobody wants to go through this. Nobody wants to talk about an agency that you loved so much, that you trusted."

Isa Greene was set to have a grievance hearing with the city about her termination last week, however, city officials canceled it after reporters showed up with cameras. City Human Resources Director Pamela Benjamin decided to allow paper notes and tape recorders, but not video equipment.

Greene had waived her right to confidentiality and wanted the hearing to be public and open to cameras.

At the time, city officials said they needed to seek legal advice about the matter and would set a new date for the hearing. No date had been set as of late Tuesday.