A Rock Hill man has filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming he was naked and afraid outside at gunpoint while police searched his home in 2019.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in York County court by lawyers for Jethro Devane. The lawsuit names the city of Rock Hill as the defendant.
The suit seeks damages from the city and alleges violations of civil rights, gross negligence, civil assault and battery, emotional distress, and false imprisonment.
Devane said Tuesday in a news conference he was scared for his life when confronted by police at his door after seeing a light outside. Devane said he went to the door naked, then a gun was pointed at him by police.
“I know I was in danger,” Devane said. “He walked up with a gun…it was pointed at me.”
The police department defended the action after it happened in 2019.
In the lawsuit, Devane and lawyer, Justin Bamberg, state Devane believed Rock Hill Police Department officers would shoot him if he did not comply with orders as officers searched the area for juveniles. The officers did not have a search warrant nor did they ask for permission to search Devane’s home, the lawsuit states.
Bamberg said in a written statement that Devane, 71, was humiliated and subjected to an illegal search.
“The Officers effectively kidnapped Plaintiff against his will when he was forced out of his house at gunpoint under the duress that he would be shot for failing to comply or closing his door and then held him against his will at gunpoint outside of his own home completely naked in public view,” the lawsuit states. “The Officers proceeded to conduct a full search of Plaintiff’s residence while Plaintiff remained held at gun point completely naked and afraid.”
The lawsuit states the police cursed at Devane and did not know his name at the time of the incident.
The incident was captured on police body cameras, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said Devane filed a complaint with the police department. The police department found the officers to be discourteous but no other action was taken.
In a written statement from Bamberg’s office, Bamberg and Devane said they want a public apology from the city and Police Chief Chris Watts.
The lawsuit names the officers involved but those officers are not named as defendants.
The city of Rock Hill has 30 days to respond in writing to the lawsuit, under South Carolina law.
Rock Hill police defend their actions
Rock Hill Police Department Lt. Michael Chavis, spokesman for the department, said Tuesday the police department was aware the lawsuit has been filed, but declined comment.
“We do not comment on pending litigation,” Chavis said.
In 2019, the department issued a written statement about the incident, according to Chavis. Police detained Devane and checked the home for Devane’s safety while searching for the suspects, the statement said.
Here is the full statement issued in 2019:
“On June 3rd , 2019, Rock Hill Police Officers responded to a call for service on Douglas Street at 3:55 am, where the complainant reported to dispatch his vehicle had just been broken into by four subjects, possibly juveniles. Our officers began responding to the area and were updated the subjects were walking on Lucky Lane. One of our officers observed the subjects on Lucky Lane as the subjects fled on foot. Our officer gave pursuit on foot and the subjects ran behind 236 Lucky Lane. During this foot pursuit, additional officers were responding to the area to assist in apprehension. These officers arrived in the area going into the backyard of 236 Lucky Lane where the subjects just ran.”
“As the officers continued through the backyard, they came upon 237 Barber Street, which is directly behind 236 Lucky Lane. The officers observed the grass to be uncut, a swimming pool unmaintained, and the door of the residence standing completely open. There were no lights on inside the residence or outside the residence. Officers believed the residence to be unoccupied.
“Our officers focused on the residence due to the circumstances which lead them there. With the reasonable belief the subjects could have run inside the residence, the residence appearing to be abandoned, and in the interest of public safety to make sure no one else was inside being harmed, our officers decided to physically check the residence. While making approach, they encountered Mr. Devane who appeared in the doorway, only being illuminated by the officer’s flashlights. All the lights to residence were still off. Mr. Devane was detained by officers for safety as the residence was still not completely checked. Officers then conducted a protective sweep of the residence. Once officers were able to verify Mr. Devane’s identity and account of his being at the residence they left the scene and continued checking the area for the subjects who broke into the vehicle.”
Chaplin Spencer, a lawyers for the city, said the city released that previous statement. An outside law firm representing the city is handling the case, Spencer said.
Man who filed suit says his life was at risk
In an onlinze Zoom news conference call with the media Tuesday, Devane said he woke up to a nightmare.
The police officer had a gun in his face and Devane said he complied despite being naked and terrified.
“I did what the man said,” Devane said Tuesday. “He’s got the gun, not me. He could have took my life.”
Devane said he was nice and cordial to the officer, whom Devane said both threatened him and laughed at the situation. A second officer, female, could see him in his nude state, Devane said.
“I tried to talk as nice as I could,” Devane said. “There was six of them and one of me.”
Devane said he owns other nearby properties and did not give police authority to search any of his properties.
Bamberg said in the news conference the police conduct was “ridiculous, “ and “disgusting.” Bamberg said the actions took place in a “lower class” neighborhood, but would not have happened in other, more affluent areas of the city.
Bamberg said the police were running around the neighborhood like vigilantes.
“Why do we have to be advocating for human dignity?” Bamberg said.
The police claimed to be looking for teens that night in 2019 but found Devane who clearly was not a teenager, Bamberg said.
“Mr. Devane was not treated with an ounce of decency,” Bamberg said. “Is this how we want policing in our neighborhoods?”
[via Rock Hill Herald]