Politics & Government

Hilton Head man says Bluffton officials assaulted, falsely arrested him. Now he’s suing

Police remove Skip Hoagland from Bluffton Town Hall

Local businessman and chamber critic Skip Hoagland was removed from Tuesday's Bluffton town council meeting by Bluffton police officers after making public comments critical of Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and town staff.
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Local businessman and chamber critic Skip Hoagland was removed from Tuesday's Bluffton town council meeting by Bluffton police officers after making public comments critical of Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and town staff.

Skip Hoagland, a vocal critic of Bluffton government officials, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the town alleging he was assaulted, falsely imprisoned, and falsely arrested following a 2015 incident at a Bluffton Town Council meeting.

Hoagland, a Windmill Harbor businessman with a years-long history of feuds and legal battles with local politicians and the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, was removed from a Dec. 8, 2015 council meeting during a public comment session.

He was part-way through a speech calling for Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and town manager Marc Orlando “to be held accountable by the public for past wrongdoing.”

Following a verbal sparring match with Sulka, a chaotic scene broke out and ultimately resulted in two Bluffton Police Department officers escorting Hoagland out of Town Hall.

“The chief of police, the town manager, the town lawyer, the entire town council just sat there and let it happen,” Hoagland, who is the founder of a local whistleblower group called Beaufort Watchdog and a lightning rod for controversy, said Tuesday. “ ... I never even got a chance to finish my speech.”

In court documents filed Dec. 1, Hoagland’s attorneys allege the “town used professional and physical intimidation” to “unlawfully restrain” him, stifle his comments, and remove him from the meeting.

Town officials and law enforcement personnel “were violating and harassing me and my rights under the First Amendment,” Hoagland said.

Town attorney Terry Finger declined comment Tuesday afternoon.

Hoagland’s legal action against the town comes on the heels of a July libel lawsuit filed against him by Sulka.

That suit claimed Hoagland issued “false and defaming statements” about Sulka in a series of emails sent to various recipients between 2015 and April of this year. His lawyers filed a motion earlier this month to have the suit dismissed.

Hoagland’s legal battles are by no means confined to Bluffton.

Hilton Head Island Town Councilwoman Kim Likins filed a defamation suit against him in 2015. That ongoing suit claims that Hoagland made statements to her bosses that she was unfit to serve in her job as director of the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island.

According to her suit, Hoagland made the allegation following her vote in favor of a contract with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

In April, Hoagland filed a $10 million against the Town of Hilton Head Island claiming the town is illegally funding Likins’ lawsuit against him.

The chamber of commerce has long been one of Hoagland’s biggest targets.

In early 2016, Hoagland won a lawsuit against the chamber that forced the organization to provide access to internal documents under the state Freedom of Information Act.

The chamber appealed the ruling to the S.C. Supreme Court. In October, the court heard oral arguments in that case but has yet to issue am opinion.

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