Theophilus Hamilton was exonerated in 2010 in the brutal attack on a Bluffton man, but his arrest has followed him ever since, he said in court Tuesday, the first day of his civil trial.
Hamilton, who claims he was maliciously prosecuted and wrongfully arrested by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, testified in Beaufort County Court, speaking of the many fights and disputes he said were sparked by his arrest in connection with the Oct. 30, 2008 attack.
Classmates at Bluffton High School called him a "snitch" and picked fights, according to Hamilton, who wore a red and white polo shirt, khakis, and a lion medallion on a wooden-bead necklace.
As an inmate at the Beaufort County Detention Center, where he spent 17 days, Hamilton says he slept on a crate on the ground and was hassled by older cousins of those same students.
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"I'm locked up like an animal, caged up like everyone else," Hamilton said, when his attorney, Eric Erickson, asked whether his conditions were better than that of adult inmates. "It's filthy. Who would want to live like that?"
The trouble continued in 2012, Hamilton says, when he was shot at from an unknown SUV, purchased a stolen gun to protect himself, and was later charged and convicted with possession of that weapon.
Beaufort County Sheriff's Office attorney Mary Lohr questioned Hamilton about those incidents after seven hours in court.
She then asked Hamilton who he blamed for what he called a ruined reputation. The Hardeeville man, who now works as a landscaper and construction worker, said he blames the Sheriff's Office, not Kuwan Fields, the only suspect convicted in the crime.
Hamilton said deputies coerced Fields to name him and co-defendant Harry Chris Battle Jr., in part during an hour-and-a-half-long interview that was played in court Tuesday.
"Did you hear the interrogation?" Lohr asked.
"Did you hear it?" Hamilton countered.
"You blame the people who were lied to instead of the liar," Lohr said.
In the interrogation, Fields, then 18, spoke with investigators at his home and confessed that he, Hamilton and Battle broke into a shed behind a Sugaree Drive home and then attacked the homeowner, Brian Lanese, and his friend Jeffrey Wooten, as they were grilling outside.
Hamilton and Battle were found not guilty of assault and battery with intent to kill, second-degree burglary and criminal conspiracy at a family court trial in 2010.
Battle sued the Sheriff's Office as well, but accepted a $30,000 settlement in March 2013, according to documents released Tuesday by the county.
Hamilton rejected that amount, according to Lohr. Erickson said his client seeks more than $100,000 in damages, though his lawyer would not state the exact amount.
Hamilton alleges Investigator Louis Novak of the Sheriff's Office coerced Fields' statements about the two men, who were 16-year-old Bluffton High School students at the time. It also says Fields named them to protect his relatives who were involved in the crime.
Master Sgt. Mike Riley, who supervised the investigation, testified Tuesday and denied he or Novak coerced Fields. He added there was no evidence to point to a cousin initially implicated by Fields' sister.
Novak was fired by the Sheriff's Office for failure to attend a meeting in 2011, the same year Battle and Hamilton filed their civil suit, according to the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. However, he previously faced two other disciplinary investigations, according to records included the civil case file.
In 2006, Novak used a county credit card to purchase an alcoholic beverage and later lied about it, according to a Sheriff's Office disciplinary action. He was reassigned to patrol, and he received three days without pay and one year of probation, the action states.
In another undated incident, Novak was involved in a criminal domestic violence incident. Lt. Col. Neil Baxley recommended Novak be fired, but Sheriff P.J. Tanner chose not to do so, according to the sheriff's deposition in the case.
On Monday, Judge Brooks Goldsmith ruled Novak's disciplinary record would not be heard by the jury, according to Erickson. Neither would a jailhouse call made by Fields, in which Fields implicated two other unknown teenagers in the 2008 attack, Erickson said.
Lohr said Goldsmith's rulings were appropriate but declined to comment further.
Erickson and Lohr said they expect the trial to come to a close Wednesday, after both sides call expert witnesses and submit their remaining evidence.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.