Town, Sheriff Named in Lawsuit

WINNSBORO – The Town of Winnsboro and Fairfield County Sheriff Herman Young have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed last month by a Winnsboro man, whose complaint alleges a pattern of harassment and abuse by the Winnsboro Department of Public Safety dating back to December of 2010.

Ronnie O. Armstrong of Winnsboro filed the lawsuit Dec. 20, 2012, through his attorneys, Daniel K. Felker and Stephen C. Hucks, in the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas. In the suit, Armstrong lays out a list of nine grievances, including negligent use of unreasonable and excessive force, false arrest, assault, battery, property damage, defamation and harassment.

According to the complaint, Armstrong’s troubles with the Department of Public Safety began on Dec. 23, 2010, when he was pulled over on Vanderhorst Street while driving his 2007 BMW. The complaint states that Creighton McDermott, the Public Safety officer who initiated the traffic stop, told Armstrong that he “knew (Armstrong) had drugs in the vehicle and that it (the BMW) fit the description of a drug dealer.” Nevertheless, the complaint states, Armstrong was allowed to drive away after a brief conversation with the officer. Later that same day, however, warrants were issued for Armstrong’s arrest on charges of reckless driving, resisting arrest and failure to stop for a blue light. Armstrong turned himself in and the charges were all later dismissed for “lack of probable cause,” the complaint states.

On March 25, 2011, Armstrong was again pulled over in his BMW, this time on College Street by Officer Mike Carroll, according to the complaint. Carroll asked Armstrong “where were the drugs,” and shattered the driver’s window, showering Armstrong’s face and eyes with broken glass. Additional WDPS officers, as well as a Fairfield County Sheriff’s deputy, arrived at the scene to assist Carroll, the complaint states, at which time Armstrong was dragged from the car and onto the pavement where he remained for nearly three hours while officers search the car. The BMW was eventually impounded and held for 14 days. No drugs were ever found, the complaint states, although investigators inflicted significant damage to the car’s interior. Armstrong, meanwhile, was arrested and charged with driving left of center, resisting arrest, giving false information to a police officer and failure to stop for a blue light. Except for the driving left of center charge, Armstrong was later acquitted at trial.

The complaint notes that, during the March 25 incident, officers drew their weapons on Armstrong “without provocation or need.”

On July 12, 2011, Armstrong was driving his 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe on College Street and was pulling into the driveway of his mother’s home when he was stopped by WDPS officer Reuben Thompson. Thompson told Armstrong he would not speak with him until Officer McDermott arrived on the scene. When McDermott showed up, the complaint states, McDermott told Armstrong, “I told you we were going to get you.” Armstrong was arrested and charged with failure to stop at a stop sign, resisting arrest and failure to stop for a blue light, all of which are still pending.

The complaint also alleges that Freddie Lorick, Chief of Public Safety, told a television news reporter during an interview following one of Armstrong’s arrests that Armstrong “was a drug dealer.” That statement, the complaint alleges, was made “with full knowledge and intention that it might be broadcast throughout the state of South Carolina,” and that as a result, Armstrong “has suffered embarrassment, humiliation and mental suffering.”

Armstrong’s attorneys are seeking actual damages on all causes of action, to be determined by a jury; a restraining order against the defendants; attorney’s fees; the cost of the lawsuit; and “such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.”