Two men acquitted in Bluffton beating sue Sheriff's Office

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Two men acquitted in Bluffton beating sue Sheriff's Office

By KYLE PETERSON
kpeterson@beaufortgazette.com
Published Tuesday, November 15, 2011   |  619 Words  |  

A new lawsuit alleges that Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigators fabricated evidence and coerced a witness in their haste to solve the case of a Bluffton man who was brutally beaten in his backyard in 2008.

Harry C. Battle Jr. and Theophilus D. Hamilton were charged in connection with the incident, but both were acquitted last year of burglary, criminal conspiracy and assault with intent to kill.

Now the pair is suing the Sheriff's Office and seeking unspecified damages for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and abuse of process.

The suit, filed in the 14th Circuit Court on Oct. 31, alleges deputies were uninterested in the truth and only concerned with easing public pressure to solve the crime.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on pending litigation.

Bluffton attorney Gregory Galvin, who is representing Battle and Hamilton, also declined to comment.

ALLEGATIONS LEVELED

On Oct. 30, 2008, Brian Lanese was severely beaten when three attackers wearing Halloween masks burst from the woods behind his home and assaulted him in his backyard.

A key suspect in the crime, Kuwan Fields, made a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary in 2009. In exchange for testifying against Battle and Hamilton, he was to face no more than six years in prison.

But his testimony was undermined by a recording of a jail-house phone call, in which Fields told a confidant that someone else "should have been on the front page with me." That recording helped torpedo the case against Battle and Hamilton, and prosecutors later argued Fields broke his plea agreement by not telling the whole truth.

But the lawsuit alleges the Sheriff's Office "failed to reinvestigate the case," and continued trying to convict Battle and Hamilton, even after it became clear Fields "had perjured himself."

The suit suggests Fields fingered Battle and Hamilton to protect family members who might have been involved in the crime. In addition, it argues that Fields' initial confession was coached and coerced through intimidation.

Investigator Louis Novak allegedly threatened to search the houses of Fields' family members if he didn't cooperate. Novak also allegedly described a prision-rape attack in the Beaufort County Detention Center and told Fields he would need to "sleep with one eye open," court filings state.

The suit argues deputies should not have considered him credible under the circumstances.

Further, a witness to the beating reported that one attacker yelled "Deuce, or something similar to that," during the incident, court filing state, adding that "Deuce" is a nickname for one of Fields' cousins.

But Novak allegedly filed a police report stating the attacker yelled, "Chris or Deuce, or something similar to that," which the suit calls "an attempt to frame Chris Battle for the crime."

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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