In March of this year, the Sylvester Police Department showed up at Worth County High School with a K-9, searched for drugs, and did not find any.
The Worth County Sheriff apparently did not think the Sylvester police were thorough enough. In April, he showed up at the high school with two deputies, stopped all classes for two hours, separated the 900 students by gender, lined them up against the wall, and physically searched all of them for drugs. No drugs were found.
Nine families filed suit against the sheriff for violations of the students’ civil rights.
Last week, a grand jury returned six criminal indictments against the sheriff and his deputies, charging them with crimes including false imprisonment under color of law and sexual battery for touching a male student’s groin area.
Can I Sue the Police in South Carolina?
Lawsuits against the police are ordinarily difficult cases. Even in cases where an officer’s negligence hurts someone, “qualified immunity” can shut down the lawsuit and there will be no remedy for the injured person.
As in the Worth County case, a person can file what is called a “1983 action” for violation of their civil rights. The case is filed in federal court (or subject to removal from state court) and must allege that a government agent (or someone conspiring with a government agent) violated a specific statutory or constitutional civil right.
For example, if a person is arrested and charged with public disorderly conduct (contempt of cop) for criticizing a police officer, the lawsuit might state that the officer violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure.
In the Worth County case, the lawsuit claims that the sheriff and his deputies violated the student’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. A police officer must have an “individualized suspicion” before they can search a student for drugs. In this case, 900 students were terrorized, lined up against a wall, and groped by the deputies who did not have an individualized suspicion to search any of them.
What Is the South Carolina Tort Claims Act?
A lawsuit under SC’s Tort Claims Act (SCTCA) can be filed in state court, or it can be filed in the federal court if there is an accompanying 1983 claim.
The SCTCA gives permission for citizens to sue the government under certain circumstances, but their remedies are limited:
- The statute of limitations for a SCTCA lawsuit is two years instead of three.
- The SCTCA does not allow punitive damages, and the potential recovery is capped.
- A SCTCA lawsuit must name the municipality instead of the individual who caused the injury.
- Attorney fees are also not available under the SCTCA although you can recover attorney fees if you are successful in a 1983 action.
A lawsuit against the police, a school district, or other government agency can include both 1983 claims and state law claims under the SCTCA.
Were You a Victim of Police Abuse?
The law, courts, judges, and often jurors are not going to be on your side. Despite this, if we believe that you have a case, we will aggressively pursue your claim and fight to ensure that you are compensated.
If you believe that you have a claim against the police or other government officials, schedule a free consultation with a Myrtle Beach personal injury lawyer on the Axelrod team. Call us at (843) 916-9300 or fill out our contact form today.