Beaufort settles with man who alleged excessive force

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comJuly 9, 2012 


A Ridgeland man who sued the city of Beaufort last year, alleging that he broke his nose on a squad car window when an officer slammed on the brakes, has agreed to accept a $3,000 settlement.

Mark Altman Jr., 27, filed the lawsuit in November, alleging Beaufort police officer Richard Poole used excessive force by spraying him in the face with pepper spray and striking him in the thigh with a baton during a November 2009 arrest near Bay Street, according to court records.

Altman and the city agreed June 11 to settle the case, according to court records.

Poole wrote in an incident report that he was patrolling downtown when he saw Altman, 24 at the time, carrying an open bottle of beer.

When Poole began writing him a ticket for drinking in public, Altman "became belligerent and shouted out profanities," the report said. Poole said in the report he warned Altman three times that he would use pepper spray, and squirted him when he did not calm down.

Poole and other officers, who were not named in the suit, took Altman to the ground, but he continued to fight. They couldn't get his hands behind his back to place him in handcuffs until they struck him on the thigh with a baton, according to the report.

Altman's court filings also say that en route to the Beaufort County Detention Center, Poole "deliberately and suddenly applied the brakes," which threw him into the patrol car window and broke his nose.

Attorneys for the city said they did not know Altman's nose was broken, and they denied all of the suit's allegations. Altman was convicted in December 2009 for drinking in public and resisting arrest, and he paid $657 in fines and court costs, records show.

Attorney Robert Achurch of Beaufort, who represented the city in the case, called Altman's allegations "unfounded and unsubstantiated" and said the case was settled at the behest of the city's insurance provider.

"The city's insurance carrier made a decision to settle the case for a nominal figure from a strictly economic standpoint to avoid the costs and expenses of protracted litigation," Achurch said. "There was no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants."

Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said Poole was not disciplined for the incident.

Altman's attorney, Patrick Kerr of Hilton Head Island, said settling the lawsuit was in his client's best interest.

"In the absence of audio, video or other recordings to verify either of the parties' claims, there were certain evidentiary difficulties with the case," Kerr said. "It is always difficult for a detained suspect to successfully pursue a civil action against a law enforcement officer or agency."

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