Lawsuit Filed Against Florence County Sheriff’s Office

Florence County Sheriff’s Office arrested two pilots last year for flying a Lake City helicopter the day before it was transferred to Florence County.  They were charged with unlawful entry of an aircraft, a felony offense, and were acquitted by a jury in January of this year:

Fridl and Hemmingsen were arrested and charged with unlawful entry of an aircraft by the Florence County Sheriff’s Office after flying the Bell OH58A helicopter in April 2015.

The pilots took the helicopter for a preventative maintenance flight on April 6, prior to it being transferred into the possession of the sheriff’s office from Lake City. The sheriff’s office picked up the helicopter the following day and both Fridl and Hemmingsen were arrested shortly afterward.

The sheriff’s office claimed it had ownership of the helicopter at the time of the flight and had not given Fridl or Hemmingsen permission to fly the aircraft.

Following a three-day trial in Florence County General Session Court, the jury rendered acquitted both pilots.

Their attorney, Patrick McLaughlin from Florence, has filed a civil action against Florence County for the wrongful arrests alleging that the pilots were arrested without probable cause, Florence County Sheriff’s Office did not own the helicopter on the day the pilots made the preventative maintenance flight, the Sheriff’s Office made defamatory statements alleging that the pilots had committed a crime when they did not, and, even worse in ethical terms, that the Sheriff’s Office attempted to use the criminal case to get the pilots to sign a waiver of liability against the police department.

The suit claims that on or about Sept. 28, offers were made to Fridl and Hemmingsen that their charges would be dismissed if “they would agree to a resolution which would shield FCSO from any civil liability” and state there was a probable cause for their arrest. Fridl and Hemmingsen refused those offers.

The Rules of Professional Conduct expressly forbid using a criminal matter to gain advantage in a civil case – these Rules don’t apply to a sheriff’s office, but they certainly apply to the prosecutor that was handling this case.  My question is, did the prosecutor make this offer to the pilots, to dismiss in exchange for signing a release of liability?  If it was a felony offense in General Sessions Court, how could the offer have been made without the prosecutor being involved?

RULE 4.5: THREATENING CRIMINAL PROSECUTION

A lawyer shall not present, participate in presenting, or threaten to present criminal or professional disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.

Attempting to obtain a waiver of liability before dismissing a case is unethical and disgusting.  They were willing to dismiss the case, they knew they had screwed up bad enough they were liable, and, when the defendants did not agree to release them from liability, they went forward with the case and put them through three days of trial anyway.  Kudos to Mr. McLaughlin for not backing down and for holding their feet to the fire.

3 Responses to “Lawsuit Filed Against Florence County Sheriff’s Office

  • Was this Florence County South Carolina?

  • Here in this 46 county aristocracy that I’ve grudgingly come to term, “The 30 Day State,” it comes as no surprise to hear of such arrests. After all; an officer’s training typically consists of being given a gun, badge, further a phone number to the solicitor if they ever get into anything past a speeding ticket. Therefore, what exactly can one expect when some of the lowest paid cops in the nation, who think a penal system has something to do with a urinal, fail to make a simple phone call?

    It appears to me that the charges in question were already pending, further in a “criminal” matter; therefore, the rule doesn’t seem appropriate in this case. What does appear appropriate is such things as coercion, blackmail, extortion — those unsavory terms which, when used, pretty much end an attorney’s career in this God forsaken, ethically void state.

    I’m from San Bernardino County, California; a county that’s a mere 1/3 smaller than all of South Carolina. Here’s a link that might make matters significantly more clear than the single sentence rule in question that this state offers. It even mention’s South Carolina’s rule; however brief.

    http://ethics.calbar.ca.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=qhKNnagAirM%3D&tabid=2161

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