A Hardeeville man's lawsuit claiming false imprisonment and malicious prosecution by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office after the beating of a Bluffton man is set to go to trial next month.
Theophilus D. Hamilton, acquitted in the brutal beating in 2008 that put Brian Lanese in intensive care for a month with head injuries, seeks undisclosed damages and alleges unlawful arrest, abuse of process and defamation. A jury trial is scheduled for Aug. 8.
Hamilton and his former co-defendant in the criminal case, Harry C. Battle Jr. of Bluffton, filed the suit in Beaufort County Court in 2011.
However, only Hamilton will take the civil case to court, as Battle accepted an undisclosed settlement from the county during mediation in January 2013, according to court records.
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County attorney Josh Gruber said Friday that The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette would have to file a formal freedom-of-information request for the settlement amount, and he declined further comment.
Attempts to reach Battle and Hamilton were unsuccessful.
Hamilton's lawyer, Eric Erickson, said the county has filed a pretrial motion for summary judgment, which would prevent the case from going to trial. He said that motion will be heard by a judge next week. Erickson and Battle's attorney, Gregory Galvin, declined further comment.
Mary Lohr, the attorney representing Beaufort County in the case, has argued that the statute of limitation has passed on most claims, and others are not valid under the S.C. Tort Claims Act.
She and Sheriff P.J. Tanner also declined to comment Thursday.
Hamilton and Battle were arrested in November 2008, charged with criminal conspiracy, second-degree burglary, and assault and battery with intent to kill in connection with the beating of Lanese. They were both 16 and Bluffton High School students at the time of their arrest. A judge found both not guilty.
They were charged after a third suspect, Kuwan Fields, made a plea deal with the prosecution to testify that he, Hamilton and Battle burst from the woods of Lanese's Sugaree Drive home wearing Halloween masks and attacked Lanese and his friend, Jeffrey Wooten.
However, Fields' initial confession was coerced through intimidation, as he was allegedly threatened by Investigator Louis Novak, according to the suit.
Novak was fired by the Sheriff's Office several years ago, Tanner said, but he didn't remember the date. Reached Friday, Novak declined to comment.
During an interrogation, Novak described to Fields a prison rape at the Beaufort County Detention Center and told him prisoners were sleeping in hammocks in the gymnasium because there were no more available beds, according to court records.
Novak warned him to "sleep with one eye open. ... That's what everybody is doing," and went on to threaten Fields' mother and grandmother, according to court records.
The Sheriff's Office also gained evidence that Fields only named Hamilton and Battle to protect relatives involved in the crime, the suit alleges. On Nov. 7, weeks before the two men were arrested, Fields' sister told Bluffton High School officials that her cousin had run from police on the night of the attack, come home with wet pants and had borrowed a hat found at the crime scene from Fields, the lawsuit states.
In addition, Novak fabricated evidence to secure a conviction, the lawsuit alleges.
An initial Sheriff's Office report states a suspect yelled out "Deuce" -- a nickname for the cousin -- "or something similar to that."
When Novak filed a supplementary report, the line read, "Deuce, Chris or something similar to that," which the lawsuit states was an attempt to frame Harry Chris Battle.
At trial, the prosecution's case was undermined by a discovered recording of a jail phone call, in which Fields said two other teenagers should have been on the front page of The Island Packet with him for the crime, the lawsuit states.
The Sheriff's Office was malicious in refusing to reinvestigate the case, according to the suit.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Two men acquitted in Bluffton beating sue Sheriff's Office, November 15, 2011
- Teens acquitted in brutal 2008 Bluffton beating, August 10, 2010