COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Columbia Housing Authority has now apologized following the arrest of two WLTX reporters who were seeking public information related to the ongoing crisis at the Allen Benedict Court Apartments.
WLTX accepted their apology Tuesday afternoon and said “ We are looking forward to working together with the Housing Authority to immediately go through all the public records for the benefit of the residents.”
Hours earlier, WLTX reporters Jenna Kurzyna and Susan Ardis were arrested by Columbia Housing Authority police while trying to access the building that houses the public documents released by the Columbia Housing Authority earlier this week for Allen Benedict Court apartments. Those records had previously been made available to all media for review. We returned Tuesday to try to access more of those documents.
Those documents contain, among other things, maintenance records for the buildings there. This month, it was discovered that multiple gas leaks existed on the property.
Our reporters knocked on the door, but because the office appeared to be closed, our staff began to leave the area. That's when they were stopped by Columbia Housing Authority police and arrested.
The reporters were not transported away from the scene nor booked at the jail.
The Housing Authority later issued this statement:
"We, at the Columbia Housing Authority, apologize for the unfortunate incident that occurred earlier today with WLTX reporters, Jenna Kurzyna and Susan Ardis.
"Government and Public Affairs liaison, Diane Sumpter, will be meeting with all security personnel, both the Columbia Housing Authority’s and private industry, later today. Procedures are being put in place immediately to ensure that this does not happen again.
"We ask the media and the public to remember that moving is a very stressful situation. And, this has been a challenging time for all of the residents involved. We ask for your continued patience and consideration as we work to permanently house over 400 residents."
Columbia Housing Authority attorney and former City of Columbia Mayor Bob Coble echoed the same sentiment.
"We are sorry this happened," Coble said in a phone interview.
The effort Tuesday was part of a push by News 19 for answers and documentation pertaining to Allen Benedict Court Apartments, where two residents were found dead on January 17.
On Monday, Richland County coroner Gary Watts confirmed that Calvin Witherspoon, Jr. and Derrick Caldwell Roper, who lived at Allen Benedict Court, died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Their bodies were found inside their units on January 17.
The men lived in separate units in the J Building, separated by one vacant unit.
Citing an "imminent danger to life," more than 400 residents of Allen Benedict were evacuated after multiple gas leaks were found in the wake of the men's deaths.
Carbon monoxide, missing smoke alarms, charred closets, and infestations were among nearly two dozen violations at Allen Benedict Court highlighted in a Columbia Fire Department letter to Columbia Housing Authority.
News19's Deep Dive Team uncovered a limited history of work orders from Witherspoon. From January to April of 2018, Witherspoon reported issues with his heating system and water heater at least six times.
Residents at Allen Benedict Court were told last Friday they would never be able to go back to their homes because of the serious and life-threatening code violations that fire officials discovered there.
A class-action civil suit was filed last week against the apartment complex, alleges the housing authority was "negligent, careless, grossly negligent, reckless, willful, and wonton" in failing to maintain and address hazards there.
News 19's Deep Dive team is continuing to review other documents from the Columbia Housing Authority.