A Journey to Forensics Headquarters
January 2023 Issue
by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography
Lieutenant Renita L. Berry answered my email sent over the weekend promptly at 9:30 am on Monday morning. That gives you an idea of her professionalism. We set our appointment for the same day, in the afternoon. She’s a busy lady who doesn’t waste time; I admire that a lot.
In addition to the rank of Lieutenant in the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, Renita retired as Colonel with the South Carolina Army National Guard just two years ago, having served 34 years, including two overseas deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Renita and a friend joined the National Guard right out of high school in the little town of Bowman, SC, initially just to receive tuition aid for college. But she fell in love with the military and made it a career. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia with a degree in Chemistry in 1993 and earned a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University in 2004. She worked with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control at first, but a tour of a South Carolina Law Enforcement (SLED) lab opened another door for her.
During a deployment, she had time to reflect about her life goals and career path, and when she returned, she immediately applied for a position with SLED. (She admitted to calling them daily to check on her application status.) Guess what? She got the job! Persistence pays.
As a Class I Law Enforcement Officer Deputy, Renita must qualify on the shooting range, as well as pass all the physical requirements of the job. She said, “You have to do what you have to do.” She also gives credit to colleagues saying, “I’ve always had good people in my corner,” to help with all aspects of her job. She worked with SLED as a Drug Chemist until 2001, when she was recruited by Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner to come to Beaufort.
Sheriff Tanner’s dream was to have a state-of-the-art forensics laboratory here in the Lowcountry to handle the high volume of drug related crimes. The Lab was initially housed in the Law Enforcement Complex in Beaufort and then at the brand-new University of South Carolina Beaufort New River Campus. While at USCB, Renita assisted with teaching a Chemistry Lab course for one semester. She later served as a guest instructor for a Forensics course, as well. The DNA investigative unit was added in 2008 and now has eight employees and a new state-of-the-art laboratory was completed in 2010. Renita was officially named Director of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Services Laboratory in 2010.
Currently Renita and the rest of the lab staff are working on an internal audit, which helps to ensure the laboratory remains in compliance with ISO 17025:2017 standards, a requirement for international accreditation. The main responsibility of the lab is to receive, evaluate and analyze evidence from criminal investigations. The lab scientists do this by providing state-of-the-art testing, verifying and collaborating with other experts and providing reports and testimony as needed by the courts of law.
There are two divisions: Forensic Biology/DNA and Forensic Chemistry/Controlled Substances. The Biology/DNA team examines samples, which can be minute amounts of biological material, such as saliva, blood or skin cells that may be used to develop an investigative lead, link a suspect to a victim or crime scene, confirm or disprove an account of the crime, and identify unknown victims. The Beaufort Forensic Lab also works with rape kit evidence and provides training for nurses attending to rape victims. State and national databases are accessed to compare DNA profiles (which are obtained from evidence) from other jurisdictions, and sadly, sometimes to identify human remains.
The Forensic Chemistry section works to identify illegal and dangerous unknown substances, such as poisons, illicit drugs, overdoses, and trafficking. Again, the Coroner’s Office may request information from the Lab regarding a possible overdose or poisoning victim when unknown substances have been found with the victim. In all these examples, Renita stresses they “follow the science,” staying completely neutral and unbiased. In chemistry and DNA, science speaks for itself.
Renita has a large five-foot tall whiteboard that stands by itself, and has lists and goals for the week, the month, and ongoing issues. She uses it for staff meetings, as well as a personal visual reminder of the tasks at hand. She is an example to all of us through her professionalism, persistence and pride in her work. Her whiteboard might be full, but she and her Forensics Lab team are already a valuable asset to Beaufort County citizens.
Citizens Police Academy
Want to know more about Law Enforcement in Beaufort County? Apply to attend the Citizens Police Academy that gives you an insider’s look and takes you through each division of law enforcement.
When: Next class starts Spring 2023
How Long: 9 weeks long, 1 class per week
Who can attend: Anyone 18 or older, living or working in Beaufort County. Must pass a criminal history check, no outstanding arrest warrants, submit personal and professional references.
What you will experience: You will learn about patrol operations, emergency management, criminal and cold case investigations, SWAT and K-9 Unit demonstrations, firearms training simulations, and best of all, hear more about the Forensic Lab and best of all, meet Lt. Berry in person!