South Carolina Fire Departments Sued Over Post-Accident Altercation

A woman and her minor son are suing two South Carolina fire departments over a post-accident altercation that led to the mother and son being arrested. Julia Hyman and her son, identified in court pleadings as J.H., filed suit earlier this month against the Berkley County Sheriff’s Department, Whitesville Rural Fire Department, Whitesville Rural Fire Department Station 1, and numerous sheriff’s deputies and emergency responders.

According to the suit, on May 16, 2014, there was a car accident near Hyman’s home. After calling 911, Hyman and JH went outside where they met the first arriving firefighter, Michael Stephenson.

  • J.H., a minor, explained what happened to Defendant Stephenson and that the Plaintiff was a Junior Firefighter. Defendant Stephenson asked the Plaintiff to divert traffic to keep the area open for emergency vehicles.
  • Defendant Pittman, with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department, arrived in an unmarked white vehicle, approached the scene at a high rate of speed, and fish-tailed as he stopped on the gravel, almost hitting the Plaintiffs.
  • As Defendant Pittman exited his vehicle, he screamed at the Plaintiffs to “get the fuck out of the road!”
  • Plaintiffs began to exit the road when Defendant Pittman again screamed at the Plaintiffs and told them that if they do not get out of the fucking road, I am going to arrest you.
  • Plaintiffs entered their property and continued watching the emergency response teams.
  • Defendant Pittman followed the Plaintiffs onto their property and continued screaming in their faces to get off the road.
  • Plaintiff Julia Hyman went to protect herself by wrapping her arms around herself as she was recovering from breast surgery which occurred on May 5, 2014. Defendant Pittman slapped the Plaintiffs arms away and then aggressively threw Plaintiff Julia Hyman to the ground and hand cuffed her.
  • Plaintiff Julia Hyman cried out in pain and tried to explain her situation, but Defendant Pittman continued screaming at her to shut the fuck upand that he did not give a fuckabout her pain.
  • Plaintiff J. H. ran up to Defendant Pittman and tried to explain that Plaintiff Julia Hyman had just had surgery. Defendant Pittman pushed Plaintiff Julia Hymans face into the ground and screamed at her to lay there and shut up.
  • Defendant Pittman charged after Plaintiff J. H., and along with Defendant James Sienathe of the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department, began beating Plaintiff J. H. with a metal baton.
  • Plaintiff Julia Hyman witnessed Defendant Stephenson, Defendant Matthew Gaskins with the Whitesville Rural Fire Department, Station 1, and Defendant Nathan Rollins with the Berkeley County Sheriffs Department leave the scene of the accident and assist Defendant Pittman in beating Plaintiff J. H..
  • Once Defendant Pittman and Defendant Sienathe restrained Plaintiff J. H. they continued to beat him with metal batons.
  • Plaintiff Julia Hyman tried to protect her son by lying across him to stop the force of the batons. By doing so Plaintiff Julia Hyman was hit by the batons and Defendant Stephenson elbowed Plaintiff Julia Hyman in the eye in order to remove her.

Both Hyman and JH were arrested and incarcerated. The complaint does not list the charges nor the dispositions. The counts are:

Count I – Deprivation of Constitutional Rights, Pursuant to 42 USC § 1983

Count II – False Arrest and Confinement – 42 USC §1983

Count III – Negligence and Gross Negligence

Count IV – Invasion of Privacy

Count V – Grossly Negligent And Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress/Outrage

Count VI – Doctrine Of Necessities

Here is a copy of the complaint: Hyman v Berkeley County

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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