A response to a lawsuit filed by a Beaufort man, cleared of a charge of sexual conduct with a 4-year-old girl at a church Sunday school, denies police violated his rights during and after their investigation.
Joel Iacopelli filed suit Dec. 31 against the town of Port Royal in Beaufort County Court alleging he was slandered and maliciously prosecuted by its police department. His wife, Marianne Iacopelli, also filed suit separately. The lawsuits also name Port Royal police Sgt. Robert Bilyard, the Beaufort County Department of Social Services, DSS employees Latasha Williams and Kyra Speller, and Hope Haven of the Lowcountry.
Joel Iacopelli was charged July 10 with criminal sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 11 for allegedly touching the child inappropriately during a June 28 class at Community Bible Church in Port Royal. The charge was dismissed Aug. 20 by Beaufort County Magistrate Richard Brooks due to lack of probable cause.
The Jan. 29 response to Joel Iacopelli’s suit denies that his constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure of property were violated during the investigation.
It also denies that police officers arrived at Iacopelli’s home with an arrest warrant July 10 and told him they had secured the warrant because he did not take a polygraph test police had requested. Iacopelli claimed he was not contacted by law enforcement to take the test and that Sgt. Bilyard only left a message for him to schedule an appointment for his children to undergo an interview at Hope Haven, a nonprofit child advocacy and rape crisis center. The defendants’ response denies that claim.
The defense also that search warrants were executed outside of the police department’s jurisdiction and that one warrant was not signed by a judge.
Both Iacopelli and his wife’s lawsuits allege that the eight search warrants served at their home were invalid. The lawsuit said that when Bilyard and other officers brought an unsigned search warrant to Marianne Iacopelli after her husband was arrested that Bilyard told her she could “do this the easy way or the hard way,” and threatened to have “twenty cops come and tear up her house.”
The defense also denies that DSS failed to terminate a safety plan it asked Marianne Iacopelli to sign, which could have removed the couple’s children from their home once the investigation ended.
That safety plan also said Iacopelli must have no unsupervised contact with his children. The plan was not revised even though a Circuit Court judge allowed on July 23 for him to have unsupervised visits with his children under the conditions of his bond and that neither he nor his wife was contacted about whether the criminal case against them was closed, the suit said. The defense denies those claims.
The defense also denies accusations that Hope Haven’s interviews of the alleged victim consisted of “blatantly leading questions” and that no cognitive testing was conducted on the 4-year-old.