Posted on Jan 22, 2006
Jury awards ex-deputy $150,000
Richland County Sheriff’s Department had been accused of abuse of processBy RICK BRUNDRETTStaff WriterA Richland County jury has awarded $150,000 to a former deputy who claimed sheriff’s investigators brought false criminal charges against him because he wouldn’t cooperate in an unrelated internal investigation.
In a 2003 lawsuit, Shawn Swicegood said he repeatedly told sheriff’s investigators that he knew nothing about bribery allegations involving fellow Deputy Bryan Gailey, later convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.
Swicegood said the investigators didn’t believe him and warned they would bring charges against him if he didn’t cooperate.
In March 2003, Swicegood was charged with three counts of obtaining property under false pretenses. He was accused of working at a Cash-O-Matic while on duty.
Swicegood denied the charges, and Richland County Magistrate Michael Davis later threw out the case.
A Richland County jury earlier this month agreed with Swicegood that the Sheriff’s Department had engaged in an abuse of process, said his lawyer, Jake Moore of West Columbia.
“We believe that Shawn Swicegood has been vindicated totally by the verdict,” Moore said last week. “It’s a shame that they can’t give his life back, his career back.”
Efforts to reach Swicegood were unsuccessful. Moore said his client is working as an assistant manager at a Rock Hill fast-food restaurant.
Sheriff’s Maj. James Stewart, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit but later was dropped from the case, obtained the arrest warrants against Swicegood, Moore said. The internal investigation of Gailey was handled by Deputy Chief David Wilson, who was not named as a defendant, he said.
Contacted last week, Sheriff Leon Lott, who was named as a defendant, said his department will “vigorously pursue all appeals that are available to us.”
“Just because they carry the badge doesn’t mean they are above the law,” Lott said. “I can’t have an ex-sheriff who is breaking the law and enforcing the law.”
Robert Garfield, a lawyer for the department, said last week he planned to file post-trial motions seeking to overturn the verdict.
Lott said the civil case was delayed because Swicegood was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on an unrelated weapons charge. Swicegood was convicted of possessing a short-barreled Colt AR-15 rifle with an obliterated serial number;. Sheriff’s investigators found the gun in February 2003 in his department vehicle, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.