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Dog owners sue county, city

Posted: October 1, 2010 11:15 a.m.
Updated: October 1, 2010 11:16 a.m.

Two Camden men whose German Shepherds were seized by Kershaw County Animal Control (KCAC) and the Camden Police Department (CPD) recently filed a civil suit claiming their constitutional rights were violated.

Richard Stoerkel and Clifton Anderson filed the suit against the city of Camden, CPD Lt. Mike Stone, Kershaw County, KCAC Director Peggy Spivey and KCAC officer Bobbie Bullington.

Stoerkel and Anderson are accusing the defendants of unlawful search and seizure procedures; gross negligence and negligence per se; negligent supervision of employees, agents and contractors; trespassing; assault; battery; false imprisonment; and conversion -- all stemming from an April 22 incident during which Stone, Spivey and Bullington seized the two dogs from their Greene Street home.

In August, a six-member jury found Stoerkel guilty of violating the city’s pet restraint ordinance after one of the dogs -- a female German Shepherd named Heidi -- allegedly attacked Toto, a Maltese owned by neighbor Rosemary Joseph, in April.

The verdict was followed by Municipal Judge Michael Stegner’s sentence of 30 days in jail or a $470 fine.

Anderson and Stoerkel’s attorney Robert Butcher previously motioned for a dismissal at an emergency April hearing, on the grounds that the process by which the dogs were seized violated his clients’ Fourth Amendment rights and South Carolina state law protecting citizens from unreasonable search and seizures.

At the time, Judge Gene Hartis denied the motion, saying that he ordered the dogs to be picked up based on the testimony of “three animal control officers and because the chief of police and major of police told me there was an uprising of neighbors over the two animals.”

But in the recently filed civil suit, Stoerkel and Anderson again say that the seizure warrant was not accompanied by an “oath or affirmation,” which they say violates the Fourth Amendment.

The 20-page suit filed Sept. 7 also includes accusations of battery against Stone, who Stoerkel claims seized him by the arm, allegedly leaving “marks on his skin for many days,” and injured his knee.

“During the confrontation Defendant Stone pushed open the Plaintiffs’ door with such force that it hit Plaintiff Stoerkel in the knee and caused him pain,” according to the lawsuit.

Stoerkel and Anderson also accuse the CPD and KCAC for failing to adequately train their employees “in that they threatened citizens and residents of Kershaw County and the City of Camden to gain illegal entry to their home, threatened to arrest citizens and residents of Kershaw County and the City of Camden without probable cause, threatened to cause property damage without reason or cause to citizens and residents of Kershaw County, entered the homes of citizens and residents of Kershaw County and the City of Camden without invitation, warrant or probable cause, to accurately report their actions in incident reports or to the courts and to properly seek a warrant.”

However, at the April court hearing that resulted in the dogs’ temporary impoundment, Stone testified that Stoerkel and Anderson never asked for a search warrant and the officers were never denied entry and never threatened to “trash” the house.

As a result of the April incident, Stoerkel and Anderson say they have sustained a number of injuries and damages which include “physical pain from the battery, emotional distress, alteration of ... lifestyle, psychological trauma, apprehension, anxiety, depression, embarrassment, shame, monetary loss, deprivation of property, injury to property and a loss of enjoyment of life.”

The two are seeking damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees and costs against the defendants, Stone, Kershaw County, Spivey and Bullington -- all of whom were sued in their individual capacities.

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