ANDERSON, S.C. A local police officer claimed Thursday that he was fired for giving a speeding ticket to Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney fighting words in a state that takes its sports rivalries very seriously.
Officer Michael McClatchy issued a ticket to Swinney on Sept. 3 after he clocked him going 63 mph in a 35-mph zone in Pickens, located in the same county and 20 miles down the road from Clemson.
Word of the stop traveled fast as fans who recognized the coach and stopped to get his autograph shared the news on message boards and Internet sites. Their versions of the incident varied widely, with some saying Swinney had a meltdown and others alleging that McClatchy a fan of Clemsons bitter rival, the University of South Carolina had let his rooting interest cloud his judgment.
The city of Pickens said it fired the officer because he posted his version of events on a South Carolina message board while still on duty and using a police department computer.
McClatchy doesnt see it that way. He said he only briefly edited the post at work and is convinced that officials were just looking for a reason to get rid of him because he didnt let one of the most popular figures in the area get away with breaking the law. I was wrongfully terminated for doing my job. The computer issue is a red herring, McClatchy said, reading a statement while accompanied by his lawyer, University of South Carolina trustee and former football player Chuck Allen.
Swinney was late for his radio show at a grocery store when he was stopped for speeding. After McClatchy turned on his blue lights, the coach drove a short distance farther, then turned into the stores parking lot, according to police video footage. Swinney got out of his pickup truck and told the officer who he was and where he was going. The officer asked Swinney and his brother to sit in the truck while he wrote the ticket, but Swinney stayed outside. Soon fans started approaching the coach, and he even signed some autographs.
Swinney said little during the stop, but his brother can be heard on the tape calling McClatchy a disgrace to the badge and saying he would get it one day.
McClatchy said the grocery store manager came outside and told him the mayor of Pickens was on the phone and wanted to talk to him. The officer refused to take the call. McClatchy also said Police Chief Rodney Gregory told him that Swinney had called him at home to complain that the officer had acted unprofessionally.
Mayor speaks out
Mayor David Owens issued a statement Thursday to clarify that the grocery store manager called him, not the other way around, and that he encouraged McClatchy and a fellow officer to follow the proper procedures because there were a lot of people watching.
I never said anything regarding how the ticket should be handled that day or at any time after the traffic stop, Owens wrote.
Gregory referred questions to the city manager, who did not return a telephone call. In a statement, city officials said McClatchy had followed proper procedures during the stop and that he was not fired for issuing a ticket to Swinney.
Clemson athletics officials said Thursday that Swinney had no comment.
Shortly after receiving the ticket, however, the coach wrote a letter thanking the police chief for reducing the charge to a two-point offense, which carries an $82.50 fine and occurs when a driver is going 10 mph or less over the speed limit. The initial charge was a six-point offense and a $185 fine.