A Hampton County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy has filed a lawsuit against the Town of Bluffton, two Bluffton Police Department officials and a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy in connection with his 2014 arrest.
According to the lawsuit filed in Beaufort County Common Pleas Court on Jan. 4, Johnnie Bryant III, a resident of Bluffton, filed the suit against the town, Lt. Christian Gonzales and Sgt. John Destasio of the Bluffton Police Department and Deputy Martin Thomas of the Sheriff’s Office following his Jan. 5, 2014, arrest when he was charged with pointing and presenting a firearm.
The lawsuit alleges there was no probable cause for the arrest, no “real” investigation prior to the arrest, and that excessive force and unlawful seizure were used as he was taken into custody.
Bryant told police that he was inside his Sugar Maple Street home around 9 p.m. on the day of his arrest when he noticed a Honda Civic on his lawn. Bryant, who had his service weapon at the time, went across the street to ask his neighbors if they knew who the car belonged to, according to a report in The Island Packet.
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After he rang their door bell, a dog aggressively charged toward him, Bryant told police. He then drew his gun and pointed it at the ground as he called for his neighbors to control the dog.
The residents told police Bryant repeatedly threatened them and pointed his gun at them and the dog, according to the report.
They alleged that Bryant said, “I’m going to warn you one time,” and identified himself as a law enforcement officer while refusing to show a badge, a neighbor told police.
At one point, the neighbors said they would get their own guns, the report said.
Witnesses told police that Bryant pointed his gun at the dog but added that he tried to reason with his neighbors as one of them yelled profanities at him.
The lawsuit alleges that Bryant did not point a weapon at either of his neighbors before Gonzales, Destasio and Thomas responded to the scene.
When law enforcement arrived, Bryant had the weapon tucked into the back of his pants, the lawsuit said.
“As (Bryant) tried to explain what was going on, Defendant Thomas violently, forcefully and unnecessarily disarmed (Bryant),” the lawsuit said.
The suit claims that Bryant suffered damages including embarrassment, humiliation, damage to reputation, loss of opportunity, emotional distress and other harm as a result of the incident.
The criminal charges against Bryant were dropped on March 17, 2015.
When asked for comment from Gonzales and Destasio on Tuesday, Bluffton Police Department spokesperson Joy Nelson said that it is not the department’s policy to comment on ongoing litigation.
Thomas also declined to comment for this story.
Three attempts to contact Bryant’s Greenville-based attorney, Joshua Kendrick, on Tuesday were not successful.
An attempt to reach the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office to determine Bryant’s current position with the department was also not successful.