MCBEE, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Chief Mike Irvin didn’t see the piece of paper with the piece of brown packing tape stuck across when he first rolled up to McBee town hall Monday morning. As he got closer to the front door, he spotted it.
“Bye bye Robbie,” the note read.
Irvin pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of what he immediately assumed was “evidence.” He went to his contact list and dialed up McBee Town Councilman Robbie Liles.
“The police chief woke me up by phone at about 7:30 and told me that somebody had left me a note,” Liles told Queen City News Chief Investigative Reporter Jody Barr. The chief texted the councilman a picture of the note.
“I told him, give me a few minutes, take a shower, and I’d come on over, and we’d look at it and go from there and then try to start a little investigation to try to figure out who my biggest fan was,” Liles said in an interview outside town hall on Tuesday.
The councilman said they called the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office to ask if investigators there still had a “glue chamber” to use to “lift” fingerprints from the paper and tape. The sheriff’s office still had the equipment and offered the town the use of it, Liles said.
Liles and the chief pulled up the town’s surveillance camera system and started working to rewind the recordings from the weekend to figure out who left the note. When they reached 5:55 a.m. on Sunday, Liles said he and the chief immediately knew who left the note.
“Lo and behold, our local newspaperman or our local track coach at the high school here was the one on the video,” Liles said. The “newspaper man” was identified as 70-year-old Robert Monnie, who writes for ‘The Link’ – Chesterfield County’s community newspaper – and who is also listed as a track coach with the Chesterfield County School District.
A search of the McBee High School staff directory shows Monnie listed as the school’s cross-country coach.
“When he was processing the letter, I noticed that this note was wrote on the back of 2023 track and field McBee High School schedule, and this was before we watched the film, so that really threw me for a loop because they just didn’t have no idea that it would be our very own ‘The Link’ reporter Robert Monnie,” Liles told QCN.
The video recording Liles sent to us shows a silver KIA compact SUV driving up just outside of the front door of town hall. A man gets out and places a piece of paper on the front glass window beside the front door, then turns around and drives away. McBee Police would not provide a copy of the video so we could see how long the paper stayed on the window, but by the next morning it had fallen to the ground.
After identifying Monnie, the chief called Fourth Circuit Deputy Solicitor Kernard Redmond, asking for a recommendation on the state statute to charge Monnie under. Redmond said he told the chief S.C. Code 16-11-0770(B) was the proper law, which is the state law banning “illegal graffiti.”
Redmond said he suggested Chief Irvin take the details and the code to the town’s judge for a decision on whether to charge Monnie. Judge Gary Faulkenberry signed an arrest warrant for Monnie around 4 p.m. Monday, charging him with “Illegal Graffiti,” a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail.
The warrant’s affiant is listed as Lt. Tim Knight with the McBee Police Department.
McBee police swarmed Monnie’s home soon after and arrested him in his side yard. An officer drove Monnie to the Chesterfield County Detention Center where he was booked into jail around 5 p.m. Monnie would spend the next 22 hours waiting to see a judge in hopes to bond out.
Monnie’s arrest was the first for the McBee Police Department since the town re-established it’s formerly shuttered police force in March.
‘HIS ARREST WAS RETALIATION FOR HIS ACTIONS’
Robbie Liles and Robert Monnie were not strangers. They both live just a few blocks away from one another, and both are two of the 750 or so people who call McBee home.
Just six days before, Liles took to Facebook to criticize Monnie’s reporting related to the creation of a Northeastern Technical College campus in town. Liles said Monnie’s reporting was “negative,” writing that he read an article Monnie published in ‘The Link’ about the project two days before.
“Read the paper Wednesday with Robert Monnie’s negative article about the “powers to be“ plan not in place for the new Mcbee [sic] campus while mentioning everything that we met about two days before the paper come out. Like the young people say “stay woke” everyone is not for the advancement of this community,” Liles wrote in a June 13 Facebook post.
Liles said he believed Monnie taped the note on town hall in response to this post.
“I’ve kind of blast him on Facebook, you know, for his reporting because he’s wrote articles that, it just – I don’t understand it. It’s just; it’s so biased. In these articles, he never, he never says mayor said this, council said this, no comment from them or whatever. We’re never offered a comment to give our side of any story; he prints the story,” Liles told QCN. “I’ve been kind of rough on him on Facebook, and I guess you know, he thought about it all night one night – maybe Saturday night and 5:55 a.m. on a Sunday morning he’s seen on video coming up to post this note on the window here at town hall.”
“So you think that that note came as retaliation for your Facebook post,” Barr asked Liles, “Well, yeah, that and just me being honest with the people here in McBee that we’re just not getting a fair shake out of our local reporter,” Liles responded.
We asked ‘The Link’ publisher and owner, Jane Pigg, for a response to Monnie’s arrest. Pigg defended Monnie, who she described as a “stringer,” saying Monnie has been with the paper since its beginning. Pigg praised Monnie’s reporting skills and admitted although her paper doesn’t conduct news investigations, Monnie “doesn’t mind digging into stuff.”
Pigg said she didn’t know whether Monnie’s arrest was a result of his reporting on McBee’s leadership decisions. She also said it was not “wise” on Monnie’s part to do what he was video-recorded doing Sunday morning at town hall.
Liles said he’s never seen Monnie at any of the seven council meetings since Liles and Mayor Glenn Odom were sworn into office in February.
“I think we’ve had seven town council meeting since the new administration was took over, he’s not been to not one of them, but you know, he’ll write a full story and it’s just never the truth much you know, and I just I don’t I just don’t understand it. But I do, typically, but just don’t get it man. Especially go through this extreme of writing a note, you know, when he could just call me we can talk it out. We could, you know, you already know I’m pretty open so we could have hashed it all out, but he chose this route and he paid a price for it, or will pay the price, but we’ll just let the justice system play its course,” Liles said.
Liles denied Monnie’s arrest had anything to do with retaliation from the town because of Liles’ complaints of his reporting technique.
“No, no, I wouldn’t think so. I think the police chief done the right thing, contacted the solicitor’s office, he found out what the statutes and recommendations and the charges that should be carried out forward and went from there. I certainly had no input or, you know, it was all legal and done in the proper way. I have no problem with it,” Liles said.
Liles was present when McBee officers arrested Monnie on June 19. Liles said he was at a mechanic’s shop across the street from the reporter’s home and saw the arrest.
“So his arrest wasn’t retaliation for his reporting,” Barr asked the councilman.
“No, no, whatsoever. His arrest was retaliation for his actions at 5:55 a.m. on a Sunday morning, when he felt like he needed to come write ‘Bye Bye Robbie and post it on town hall door,” Liles responded.
21.5 HOURS BEHIND BARS
When we arrived outside the Chesterfield County Detention Center just past 2 p.m. on June 20, Robert Monnie was still inside waiting on Judge Gary Faulkenberry to set his bond on the illegal graffiti charge. Jailers confirmed Monnie was waiting on the judge to set his bond when we arrived.
At 2:28 p.m., the jail’s lobby door let out a loud clicking sound as the door swung open. Out walked Monnie, carrying a small plastic bag containing the personal property he had on him when the McBee police officer dropped him off at the jail the day before.
Monnie walked out of the main door talking on his cell phone to a woman who you could clearly hear on the other end of the line, “I’ve been worried about you,” the woman said.
“I’m okay, I’ll be home in half an hour, ” Monnie told the woman before ending the call.
Monnie proceeded to explain what happened that landed him in jail.
“The last few mornings on the way to work. I was just going up there to town hall to see if there’s any announcements online because I stopped going to the building because it’s a circus. I stopped going to the meetings because it’s a circus. So maybe that’s a silly thing to do, but Sunday morning on the way to work I put a sign up and said – I just put it on with tape, didn’t break the window saying, ‘Bye Bye, Robbie,’ referring to Robbie Liles,” Monnie explained standing in the public lobby outside the jail door.
“What did you mean by that,” Barr asked, “Well, just Bye Bye Liles, Robbie Liles,” Monnie responded.
Monnie denied his note was any sort of threat to the councilman.
“It’s not threatening. There’s a magic marker and about an inch and a half, two-inch letters,” Monnie told QCN. Liles said he didn’t perceive the note as a threat, although where Monnie taped the note is within talking distance of Liles’ bedroom.
“I don’t take it as a physical threat, even though he placed his note about 70 foot from my bedroom window. And, you know, I particularly don’t like that,” Liles told QCN. Liles lives next door to town hall in a home owned by Mayor Glen Odom, according to county tax records.
Monnie admitted his note was intended to send something of a message to town officials, not Liles alone, about what the reporter described as “unusual activity” within town government. Monnie did not give specifics about his concerns.
“Not a message, just making people aware,” Monnie told Barr.
“I noticed that Mr. Liles mentioned you in a Facebook post about five days or so ago. And it talked about you being, as he put it, “negative” about the Northeastern Technical College deal,” Barr asked Monnie standing outside the county jail on June 20. “Yeah, there’s some issues there,” Monnie said, “Do you think that that had anything to do with the town coming after you and putting you in jail,” Barr asked.
“It may have; not the town, not the town, but a couple of individuals,” Monnie replied.
He acknowledged his reporting and the opinions he included were intended to make some of his personal concerns about the town’s decisions known.
“That I’ve shown some light on some of the things that require some questions saying yeah, ‘Let’s get that satellite campus going,’ but to upgrade that building to hold 240 voltage for welding machines, etc., etc. Needs a bathroom. I mean, I don’t mind using a porta john, but some of the kids might. Just pointing out the facts,” Monnie said.
He also raised concerns that the town installed NETC campus signs to the top of street sign without permission of the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Liles said the town got permission from the state to install those campus markers before putting those markers up.
Liles said Monnie has also complained about McBee High School students not having a safe place to walk and drive to the NETC McBee campus, which is a steel building that once belonged to Alligator Rural Water and Sewer Company, the water company Mayor Glen Odom was once president of.
The website now lists Odom as a current employee, but his title is listed as the “consultant.”
The water company donated the building to NETC to use for welding instruction.
Monnie admitted he placed the sign on town hall. “It was a whim, it was a joke – harmless, harmless prank. Nothing got hurt, nothing got broken,” he said. Monnie said he believed his charge would be “sorted out” when his court date comes around.
The court date is set for July 11 before McBee town Judge Gary Faulkenberry.