Police: Two high-ranking officers off force after Sponseller probe

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Columbia police say two people are no longer employed at the department following the investigation into missing Columbia CEO Tom Sponseller.

On Tuesday, officers found Sponseller in a locked room inside a downtown Columbia parking garage attached to the executive's office building. Sponseller had been missing for ten days.

Police say investigators had previously searched the office building and garage three times and found nothing.

Chief Randy Scott ordered an internal investigation into the handling of the search after it took so long to locate Sponseller. The coroner says Sponseller is the victim of an apparent suicide.

In the wake of the invesigation, Deputy Chief of Administration/Investigations has been terminated. In addition, Chief Randy Scott accepted the retirement of the Captain of Investigations.

Officials did not provide their names because their departures are a "personnel matter," but WACH Fox News has identified those former high-ranking employees as Deputy Chief of Administration I.P. Greene, and Criminal Investigation Division Captain J.P. Smith.

"We as a department have been striving to help keep residents safe and improve relations with the community," said Scott in a release from the department. "If we stray from that, we haven't done our jobs effectively. In this situation, I have reviewed the actions of others and have determined that it is in the best interest of the department and the city to take these personnel actions to keep us moving forward in a positive direction."

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says the investigation into Sponseller's disappearance raised "a number of troubling questions" and stands behind Scott's personnel moves.

"Public trust in the police department must be maintained," said Benjamin in a statement released by the city. "Chief Scott has worked hard to that effect building significant and deserved goodwill throughout the community, and we cannot allow it to be squandered by the actions of a few."

The handling of the search for Tom Sponseller drew considerable public criticism due to the length of time it took to find him.

His office building was searched on February 18 and 19 when officers were told to do a room-by-room search of the building and parking garage. On February 25, cadaver dogs were brought in for another search.

However, on Tuesday, it was the interim director of the SC Hospitality Association, Rick Erwin, who found a suicide note in Tom Sponseller's locked desk drawer after employees found a key to it. That discovery brought officers back to the building for a fourth search.

Until Tuesday, authorities say a key was also unavailable for the room in which Sponseller's body was found. Critics questioned why officers didn't simply knock down the door of the locked room where Sponseller was discovered or pry open the desk drawer in previous searches of the office.

Chief of Staff Leslie Wiser and Lieutenant Dana Oree will oversee Investigations immediately.

It's possible more firings could be possible as a result of the department's internal investigation.

"I want the best work from everyone, every day and when we don't get those results, I'm disappointed and change must happen," said Scott. "The citizens of Columbia deserve excellent service and we are not going to let them down."