Jury rules in favor of BCSO in malicious prosecution suit - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Jury rules in favor of BCSO in malicious prosecution suit

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BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) -

The jury is has reached a verdict in the malicious prosecution lawsuit against the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, ruling in favor of the sheriff's office. 

Hamilton's aunt, Mary Fields, said the jury's verdict isn't right, saying her nephew's life was ruined because of the arrest, which she said came from a statement Fields was coerced into giving.

Theophilus Hamilton and Chris Battle, two men who were arrested for the 2008 brutal beating of a Bluffton man, both brought suits against the sheriff's office saying they were maliciously prosecuted and wrongfully arrested.

Both men were acquitted in 2010 due to lack of evidence. Battle settled out of court, but Hamilton didn't.

Both sides brought in expert witnesses who dissected the investigation, and the focal point was Kuwan Fields, the only suspect who was convicted for the 2008 beating of Brian Lanese.

Fields named Battle and Hamilton as his accomplices. The plaintiff said investigators coerced Fields, specifically the lead investigator at the time, Louis Novak.

"Their investigation was flawed," said Chuck Drago, expert witness for the plaintiff. "They did not have probable cause to make the arrest."

Drago said the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office used intimidation to get Fields to name Battle and Hamilton as his two accomplices.

"They absolutely had to corroborate that information before they went out and arrested somebody," Drago said. "And they didn't bother to do that."

However, the defense said otherwise. They found the jacket that one of the witnesses, Jeffery Wooten, said one of the suspects was wearing during the attack.

"I thought this had to be the jacket," said Sgt. Charles Runniion. "It's too unique. I've never seen a jacket like  it, ever."

The jacket was found in Hamilton's backpack, along with a newspaper article about the incident.

According to Cobb County Sherriff's Office Capt. Brian Batterton, that was all investigators needed.

"I believe there was probable cause to make an arrest in this case against Theo Hamilton," Batterton said.

Hamilton's lawyer, Eric Erickson, tried to shoot that thought down by arguing the only reason investigators got that evidence was because they went to arrest Hamilton purely off Fields' alleged coerced statement.

Erickson and Drago said Fields only named Hamilton and Battle because of was afraid of Novak.

 "As a police officer, when we see somebody admit their own culpability in the middle of pointing fingers at others, their credibility goes up at some point," said Batterton.
Novak is no longer with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. He was let go in 2010 and was not present at the trial.

The plaintiff was asking for more than $100,000.

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