Fired South Carolina Fire Chief Sues Mayor for Defamation

A former South Carolina fire chief who was terminated in 2020 has filed a defamation suit against the mayor who fired him. Mark Redd was the fire chief for the Town of Wagener. He was terminated by Mayor Michael Miller after serving the town as a volunteer firefighter for over 40 years, the last 23 of which as fire chief.

The suit alleges that Mayor Miller had a long-standing grudge against Chief Redd that pre-dated the mayor’s election in 2010. Shortly after being elected, the mayor asked the chief to resign, which he refused.  In 2016, Mayor Miller took financial control over the fire department’s accounts. In November, 2020 Mayor Miller suspended Chief Redd and two other officers and later dismissed telling the public:

  • A current investigation is being conducted by SLED and that investigation requires limited public comment.
  • The suspension arose due to inappropriate use of social media and insufficient bookkeeping documentation regarding the finances of the Wagener Fire Department.
  • There have been repeated breaches of security and repeated lack of response from the fire department when asked for bookkeeping documentation.
  • Funding was used by the fire department without proper documentation.

The Mayor went on to release additional information to the public that Chief Redd claims were false and defamatory. Among the allegations:

  • On November 14, 2020, the Lexington Chronicle newspaper posted an article on its website, www.lexingtonchronicle.com reported all Wagener Fire Department officers have been removed over failure to provide financial spending receipts and breach of security, and the article named Miller as its source. Information provided by Miller was false.
  • On November 17, 2020, Aiken Standard newspaper published an article, which was also published on its website, www.postandcourier.com/aikenstandard/. Aiken Standard began covering this story and over the course of several months and published several articles that quoted Miller or identified Miller as the source. The following statements and information were released by Miller for publication:
  • Miller released several checks written between 2007 and 2016, on May 10, 2021. Miller denied that he knew why fire department funds were transferred to other bank accounts. This was false. Miller has consistently made the transfers of fire department funds to other town accounts and used fire funds for other purposes than those required by Town of Wagener’s contract with Aiken County.
  • Miller claimed he saw some checks with his signature that he believed had been forged.
  • Miller made a statement that when Miller and Council made demands for more information, Redd and Day absolutely refused to cooperate. This was false.
  • Miller made a statement that Redd and Day were given a list of documents to provide to Council. No list of documents was given to Redd and Day.
  • Miller made a statement that when we [council] asked them questions, they just didn’t answer. This was false.
  • Miller released copies of checks and account ledger entries dating as far back as 2007 to insinuate theft or embezzlement by Redd to both news media and members of the community.

The complaint contains a single count of defamation against Mayor Miller. The town was not named as a party. Here is a copy of the complaint.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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