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Boland, Wright file wrongful arrest lawsuit

Posted: November 5, 2010 7:00 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Former Kershaw County Administrator Bobby Boland and current Kershaw County Utilities Director Russell Wright filed a federal wrongful arrest lawsuit Tuesday against Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) Capt. David Thomley. Boland and Wright are claiming Thomley violated their civil rights.

The Election Day filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina stems from a sequence of events in late 2007 surrounding suspected sabotage of a portion of the county’s sewer system. The statute of limitations to file the suit would have ended Friday.

In September 2007, Boland began relaying suspicions to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) that sewer lift systems in the West Wateree area had been tampered with. Specifically, Boland claimed that float hangers had been manually removed, causing affected lift stations’ pumps not to come on or cut off at the proper times.

Boland then filed a complaint in the form of an incident report with the KCSO not only asserting those claims, but naming a number of people as persons of interest. Those named included County Councilman Jimmy Jones, Lugoff-Elgin Water Authority (L-EWA) Manager Mike Hancock, L-EWA’s Randy Bowers and Palmetto Utilities owner Stan Jones.

Jimmy Jones and Hancock had previously supported efforts to have the county enter into a public/private partnership with Palmetto Utilities, which is based in Richland County.

Boland filed his report with Thomley, who maintained he conducted an investigation, ultimately finding no evidence of sabotage. Although the investigation was still ongoing, Thomley arrested and charged Boland and Wright on Nov. 5, 2007, for filing a false police report and giving false information to police, respectively.

Two and a half months later, in late January 2008, 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese dismissed the case against Boland and Wright. Giese said at the time that Boland had no criminal intent in filing the report and that Wright did not willfully or knowingly report information he knew to be false.

In the lawsuit, Wright and Boland -- who currently works as Lee County’s administrator but lives in Kershaw County -- stated that an overflow of sewage was discovered in the early evening of Aug. 5, 2007, at the Lachicotte Road pump station. A plumbing company was called to make repairs; the repairman reported that an air relief valve was no longer attached to the pump and was found several feet away. The repairman stated that it could not be determined if it was blown off on its own or knocked off by someone.

The next day, at Boland’s direction, Wright -- who lives in Fairfield County -- reported the spill to DHEC. That same day, another overflow of sewage was found at the same pump station. The overflow was allegedly caused because a switch had been turned off. That spill was also reported to DHEC, the lawsuit said.

A month later, the lawsuit alleged, an inspection service was checking Elgin pump stations No. 2 and 3 and found the float switches off their hangers. While there was no break-in evident at either station, the inspector “found it unusual that the float switches had come off their hangers at two different pump stations at the same time.” A theory was offered: someone had used a key to get in the station, removed the floats and tossed them in the well. Another theory was that there had been a sudden surge of rainwater. However, the lawsuit claimed, there was no heavy rain in the area at that time. A third possibility was that a PortaJohn company could have illegally dumped sewage into the drain.

“This event (the floats’ removal), if not discovered, could have caused the float switch cables to damage the pumps, resulting in a major sewer overflow,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the lawsuit, Boland took all of this information to then Kershaw County Council Chairman Steve S. Kelly Jr., who directed him to report to the S.C. Attorney General’s office. That office, in turn, directed Boland to DHEC Chief Special Investigator Michael Temple. Boland made reports to Temple by telephone while Wright wrote Temple a letter indicating someone could have used a key to get into the Elgin pump stations.

Temple told Boland to report the matter to the KCSO. Boland did so on Oct. 10, 2007; Thomley conducted the interview.

Boland and Wright claim Thomley told them he would discuss the matter further when he had more time -- that he wanted to get more information and be taken to the pump stations so he could understand what happened.

Thomley never followed up, Boland and Wright claimed in the lawsuit. Instead, “Defendant Thomley opened and immediately closed an investigation without interviewing possible leads,” the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit goes on to claim that Thomley arrested Boland and Wright on the false report and information charges without probable cause and noted Giese’s dismissal of the case.

In the lawsuit, Boland and Wright claim that Thomley violated their civil rights as secured by the 14th Amendment’s clause of due process.

Boland and Wright have demanded a jury trial, asking for any actual and punitive damages as determined by that jury, along with costs, expenses and attorney’s fees associated with the law suit.

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