SCHP commander ousted over racial concerns named Sumter police chief

Current police chief Patty Patterson / FILE

SUMTER (WACH, AP) -- The former commander of South Carolina's Highway Patrol, who resigned among questions about trooper behavior and racial insensitivity in the department, is set to become Sumter's police chief. According to Census records, the population of Sumter is 46 percent African-American.

Deputy Police Chief Russell Roark is taking over for Patty Patterson, who announced this week she is retiring September 1. Roark formerly served with the highway patrol for more than 25 years, including five years as its commander, before resigning along with then-Public Safety Department Director James Schweitzer in 2008 amid questions about discipline for troopers caught on dash-cam video allegedly mistreating suspects.

One video showed a highway patrol car chasing a suspect through a crowded Columbia apartment complex off South Beltline Boulevard. The car darts through buildings, over grass and curbs, and even through a playground while residents, some of them children, dive out of harm's way. Another tape shows a patrolman ramming a man running down a side street, and flipping him into a ditch. The trooper later brags he was trying to hit the man.

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When asked on the tape you can hear the trooper say, "Yeah, I was trying to hit him. I hit the **** out of him."

The troopers involved in those incidents received suspensions, or were sent to stress management and diversity classes. African-American community leaders argued the officers should have been fired and criticized the highway patrol after the dash-cam videos emerged.

The trooper heard using a derogatory term for blacks while pursuing a suspect on foot was later indicted but acquitted of a federal civil rights charge.

The trooper seen hitting a suspect with his patrol car was sentenced to community service. A third trooper who was seen kicking a suspect received probation.

Roark spoke to WACH Fox News Thursday morning via phone and said that while he can't erase the incidents that happened under his command, he hopes to move forward.

"People that know me and work with me, and that I have served throughout my career, know where I stand relative to race relations," said Roark.

Roark said he has lived in Sumter more than 30 years and he called the city a very diverse community with a diverse law enforcement agency. He also defended his actions at the highway patrol saying neither he nor any of his officers attempted to hide information or destroy evidence.

"I can't erase what people may discern from what they saw (on dash-cam video) but at the end of the day the information was processed," said Roark.

What do you think about the new Sumter police chief's past and will it impact his job in the department? Vote in our poll and leave a comment below to weigh in.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)