North Augusta false-arrest lawsuit becomes a federal case

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 2:28 PM EDT
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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A man’s civil rights lawsuit against the North Augusta Department of Public Safety has been transferred to federal court.

Allen Michael Johnson says officers arrested him on suspicion of murder but kept him locked up long after they knew he was innocent. He also claims authorities eavesdropped on his conversations with his attorney.

He filed the lawsuit May 18, 2022, in the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas, but now it’s in federal court.

In addition to the department, the lawsuit names officers Luke L. Sherman, Chris F. Toole, George A. Shaw and Jonathan L. Nelson; Public Safety Chief John C. Thomas; and Aiken County.

Thomas was arrested in January 2018 on suspicion of fatally shooting 19-year-old Daquan Bostic at the Ridgeview Manor apartment complex off Bradleyville Road.

“At least within a very few days of Allen’s arrest for the murder, the North Augusta Defendants came to have information that showed it was not possible for Allen to have been the person who committed the murder,” the lawsuit states.

It continues: “Rather than take any steps to get Allen released from jail, and rather than taking any steps to get the charges against Allen dropped, the North Augusta Defendants continued to prosecute the charges against Allen and had him held in jail for nearly two years on the murder charge they knew was false.”

Each day Allen was held in Aiken County jail, the North Augusta defendants violated his rights, the lawsuit alleges.

“Not long before Allen was released from jail, the North Augusta Officers, who knew Allen was in a private, privileged, confidential conversation with his attorney, secretly and surreptitiously listened in Allen’s conversation with his lawyer,” the lawsuit states. “This, too, violated Allen’s rights.”

The North Augusta defendants were “grossly negligent” in their training and job performance and “did not take even slight care” to guard against violations of Allen’s rights.

“The North Augusta Defendants acted with an ulterior purpose in having judicial proceedings instituted and continued against Allen. This includes, but is not limited to, the institution and continuation of the criminal proceedings against Allen for the purpose of trying to ‘get’ Allen, even though they knew that Allen was not the perpetrator of the murder,” the lawsuit alleges.

Among other violations, the lawsuit alleges malicious prosecution, abuse of process, false imprisonment, gross negligence, invasion of attorney-client privilege and civil conspiracy.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees and “such other and further relief as the court may deem just and proper.”

In August, Aiken County filed a response to the lawsuit outlining a number of reasons why it considers itself immune from liability. Those include that at all times, Aiken County employees were acting within the course and scope of their employment in a discretionary manner, in good faith, without bad faith or malicious motives.”

Any damages suffered by Johnson “were due to and caused entirely by the actions of a third party,” the Aiken County response states.