By Kirk Brown Anderson Independent-Mail
IVA, S.C. — Tempers are flaring in this feisty mill town over a pair of eye-catching billboards bashing the Iva Police Department.
"Chief of police is a thief and town clerk and mayor know it" is one of the billboard messages. Another message refers to domestic violence, "underage children" and sex in police cars.
Placed outside a discount cigarette shop on Iva's main drag, the signs are the latest salvos in one family's long-running feud with town officials. Spanning almost a decade, the battle between Iva leaders and merchant Henry Holley and his 81-year-old mother Annette Holley has featured two drawn-out lawsuits and lots of taunting.
Iva Mayor Bobby Gentry issued a letter Thursday defending the town's police force.
"We are not aware of any proven or founded allegations or charges against any of our current officers," Gentry said.
This month's bitter and lopsided election seems to have stirred emotions in Iva. Gentry and longtime town council member Elmer Powell won by a landslide over a husband and wife whom the Holleys supported.
After messages criticizing the police appeared on the billboards, someone hurled a rock through a window at the cigarette store, prompting the Holleys to install security cameras and offer a reward.
They also are vowing to fight three recent traffic citations while continuing their crusade against the town's five-officer police department.
"Iva has the scum of the earth for cops," Henry Holley said.
Some Iva residents who support the town's police say they are fed up with the whole thing.
One woman complained Monday on Facebook that her 7-year-old child asked her "What's sex?" after seeing the Holleys' billboard on S.C. 81.
Another woman's post suggested a boycott. "Hit them where it hurts... Spread the word if you have the guts to stand up for what is right."
Traffic citations Annette Holley said she was pulled over by Iva police officer Colin Martin a few hours after the votes were counted in the town election.
Martin gave her a $183 citation for swerving while driving, said Annette Holley. She says she will go to court to contest the ticket later this month.
Henry Holley, a 56-year-old Starr resident, said he was stopped by the same officer a few nights later. He was cited for running a stop sign and having a nonfunctioning taillight.
"I said, 'You're just a liar,'" said Holley, who said he took a video after he was ticketed showing that all of the lights on his 1991 Honda were working correctly.
Holley said he has been driving in Iva for 40 years without receiving a prior traffic ticket. He said he always drives carefully because "I know that I am being watched."
The Holleys say the recent traffic citations are nothing more than police harassment.
Henry Holley and his mother also are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests in connection with two windows that have been damaged at their store on Front Street.
Annette Holley told town police officer Tim Richey that someone fired a gunshot into one of the windows at Iva Discount Cigarettes between 5 p.m. on April 30 and 8:55 a.m. on May 1, according to a police report.
On Monday morning, officer Richey discovered that someone had used a rock to shatter another window at the same store, according to a police report.
Police Chief Thomas Miller provided copies of both police reports to the Independent Mail. He would not provide copies of the traffic citations that were given to the Holleys.
The chief also refused to respond to the Holley's criticisms.
"I am not talking to you because you never put anything good about the town in the newspaper," Miller said.
Gentry responded to the Holleys comments in his letter.
"The Police Department of the Town of Iva does not 'harass' anyone," he said. "However, when Iva police officers observe traffic offenses, they are required to follow procedure. We do not make exceptions for persons who may or may not have expressed negative opinions about the Town of Iva."
Deciphering the signs The Holleys said they believe that they and their store have been targeted because of their billboard messages.
Some of the messages are about events that happened years ago.
The Holleys said their billboard message mentioning the police chief refers to $1,600 in police fines that went missing from the Iva Police Department around 2005. Annette Holley provided a copy of a videotape in which she says town clerk Tim Taylor discusses the missing money.
On the tape, a voice that is purportedly Taylor's explains that former Iva police Chief Jimmy Sutherland said he found the money on his desk. The voice on the tape says that Sutherland moved the cash to teach a clerk a lesson about leaving money lying around.
Sutherland, who is now Anderson County's assistant fire chief, didn't return phone calls.
The voice on the tape says that current Chief Miller was involved in getting the money returned. The voice also says that Mayor Gentry didn't want any information about the incident to get out.
Taylor would not confirm or deny that his voice is on the tape.
Gentry's letter said town officials "are not aware of any missing or stolen police fine money."
Town attorney Mary McCormac said the Holleys referred to the tape while pursuing one of their lawsuits against the town but never produced a copy of it.
That suit sought to overturn an increase in property taxes and utility fees that the town council approved after Gentry was first elected in 2002. A judge and an appeals court have sided with town officials in the case. A request for a hearing before the state Supreme Court is pending, McCormac said.
One side of the Holleys' billboard has a message referring to domestic violence, sex in police cars and underage children.
The Holleys say the domestic violence portion of the message pertains to officer Richey, who previously worked at the Calhoun Falls Police Department.
Records show that the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office responded to three calls involving Richey and his estranged wife between Feb. 15, 2008 and April 25, 2008. No one was arrested or charged as a result of those calls.
The Holleys say the sex-in-police-cars portion of the message refers to another police officer who also now works for the Iva Police Department.
McCormac said one of the department's officers "was accused of something" at his former job. but an investigation revealed that the alleged victim filed a false report.
According to the Holleys, the reference to underage children on their billboard stems from a confrontation involving Miller's wife and a teenage girl that took place during a gathering at the Iva Fire Rescue station that the police chief attended.
McCormac revealed that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division received an anonymous handwritten note about two years ago alleging that Chief Miller was having a relationship with an underage girl.
In his letter, Gentry said, "SLED investigated and found the accusation to be categorically false."
After receiving the recent traffic citations, Henry Holley procured a second billboard and posted another message urging Iva residents to ask officer Martin "why he is no longer with AC police dept."
Martin left his job at the Anderson County Sheriff's Office last summer, sheriff's spokesman Chad McBride said. He declined to provide any details about Martin's departure.
McCormac said Martin was hired in Iva after town officials received a positive recommendation from his former employer.
Gentry summed up his letter on the billboards by saying that "the Town of Iva and the Iva Police Department intend to continue to do our best to serve and protect" the town's residents.
Feud's origins The bad blood between the Holleys and Iva officials appears to date back to 2003. That is when the town told Annette Holley's daughter that she could not put a mobile home on her mother's property because of a 1986 zoning ordinance.
The town eventually sued the Holleys when they refused to move the trailer off their land. The Holleys argued in court that many mobile homes, including one in which Mayor Gentry lives, had been allowed on similar parcels in the town until Gentry took office in 2002.
A judge and appeals court both sided with town officials.
The Holleys met with Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper this week to voice their concerns about recent events involving the Iva police. Citing his office's jurisdictional limitations, Skipper said he told them to try to work out their problems with town officials.
Henry Holley scoffed at the notion of trying to make peace with the Iva police.
"We could have done that with Hitler in World War II," he said.
His mother offered what she described as a simple solution for the police department: "Hire some decent people."
Copyright 2012 Independent Publishing Company
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