Exclusive: Atlantic Beach police chief explains how officer under investigation got hired

    Atlantic Beach Police Chief Quentin Robinson (left) and Akiel Jamar McKnight (right) (WPDE)

    Wednesday afternoon, Atlantic Beach Police Chief Quentin Robinson received a phone call that left him floored.

    One of his newly hired officers, Akiel Jamar McKnight, 28, of Andrews, was under investigation for misconduct in office and solicitation of a minor, and would be facing multiple charges.

    McKnight had been working for the department since Dec. 13.

    "I asked him questions about his past employment, if he had anything I needed to know," Robinson recalled. "He didn't disclose anything."

    McKnight had previously worked for the Pickens Police Department, Andrews Police Department and spent a single day as an officer with the Georgetown Police Department before being terminated, according to his file from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA).

    The way Robinson referred to the circumstances that led to Wednesday's phone call could be described as a perfect storm.

    RELATED: Atlantic Beach officer charged with misconduct, solicitation of a minor

    Robinson said McKnight passed all required background checks and had a clean record with the SCCJA.

    During the interview process, he said McKnight told him he left Pickens to move back closer to his family in Andrews, as well as having issues with the department.

    Robinson said he was told McKnight left his position in Andrews due to turmoil within the department, something Robinson said he had heard about.

    Andrews' Police Chief was fired in mid-July, according to the South Strand News. It was the third time the town had fired its chief since 2012.

    RELATED: Andrews police chief suspended with pay after complaints are filed against him

    He said officials in Andrews didn't have anything bad to say about McKnight.

    "[They] didn't tell me anything about what was going in Pickens," he explained.

    As for the one day stint in Georgetown, Robinson said it was a flag, but nothing major seemed off.

    "Georgetown did tell me they terminated him because he lied on his application and something came up," he recalled. "They didn't tell me directly what it was."

    Robinson said he had been trying to talk to the proper authority since that conversation for more explanation, but hired McKnight anyway despite any concerns he had.

    A report in the file from SCCJA regarding his employment with Georgetown states he was terminated due to "supplemental information obtained after a background investigation."

    An affidavit in that file shows that in December, Robinson did a background investigation on McKnight and that he was of "good character" and didn't have any criminal offenses.

    He said his policy was to check with the previous two employers, so he didn't call officials in Pickens. He said he would be changing that policy to the previous three or four employers if the candidate bounced around like McKnight did.

    He worked in Pickens from January 2016 to May 2018, and in Andrews from June 2018 to October 2018, according to his file. Pickens asked SLED to investigate sometime around May 2018 when McKnight left the department.

    A public record search shows that McKnight filed a federal lawsuit against the Pickens Police Department, the City of Pickens and two other people.

    The lawsuit states that while McKnight was employed as an officer, he was romantically pursued by another male, who send him nude photos that McKnight claims he didn’t solicit.

    In April 2018, McKnight was suspended for two weeks without pay for conduct unbecoming of a police officer, according to the lawsuit.

    McKnight claims in the lawsuit that he didn’t violate any rules or laws and made an employment grievance with the city administrator.

    After they pass an initial background check and are hired, Robinson said Atlantic Beach officers go through a second background check while on probationary status with the department. He said normally it's a quick process, but McKnight was one of three officers hired around the same time, and the paperwork got backed up during the holiday season.

    "He was here three weeks, so some of the stuff we didn't uncover until [Wednesday]," Robinson said, explaining that he had not finished the second background check.

    South Carolina officials said each department is able to have its own hiring criteria, but all must follow a set of basic rules. They include mandatory background checks, driving record checks, and character checks.

    For his department, Robinson said officers also must complete a 50-question document that asks for specifics about their past. He said McKnight didn't disclose the investigation during that process.

    He said McKnight was fired as of Thursday around 2 p.m..

    He has been charged with misconduct in office, solicitation of a minor, three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. He is currently being held in the Pickens County Detention Center.

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