Inmate wins civil case against Aiken County Sheriff's Office, detention center and Aiken County

Dec. 3—An inmate who sued the Aiken County Sheriff's Office for excessive force was awarded $150,000 for injuries her sustained during the incident.

Otis Keith Owens, of Warrenville, sued the Aiken County Sheriff's Office for the use of excessive force while he was an inmate at the Aiken County detention center, according to court records obtained by Aiken Standard.

On Nov. 4, an Aiken County Court of Common Pleas jury found the defendants were negligent in their supervision and confinement of the plaintiff, according to a jury verdict form obtained by the Aiken Standard.

The Aiken County detention center, Aiken County, deputies Timothy Gibson and Christopher Erikson and Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt were named as defendants, according to court documents.

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian declined to comment Nov. 11.

"We will not comment on litigation," Aiken County detention center jail administrator Capt. Nick Gallam said.

Owens's payment will be made through the defendant's insurance company, Brit Global Speciality, court records show.

Owens requested a jury trial and judgment against the defendants for actual, statutory and punitive damages, costs, attorney's fees and such other relief as the court deems just and equitable, the court documents said.

The plaintiff said Gibson, a defendant in the suit, caused pain to Owens' groin area and assaulted him beyond any measures necessary to search him, court records said.

The lawsuit alleged that Erikson watched Gibson violate Owens's civil rights by allowing or encouraging the violation to continue, court documents said.

During an Aug. 7, 2018 court deposition, Gibson testified that it would be cruel to injure an inmate in the manner the plaintiff described, court records show.

In 2017, Owens was in jail for drugs, which included contempt of drug court for possession while serving a bench warrant, a bench warrant for failure to stop for blue lights and concealing, selling and disposing of a stolen vehicle of a value more than $10,000.

On or about Jan. 27, 2017, while Owens said he was returning to his cell block from the recreation yard, a deputy with the detention center accused him and other inmates of playing dice, court records said.

Following a search, the defendants didn't find Owens in possession of dice, court documents said.

Owens requested medical attention for his injuries , but the detention center and other defendants denied him medical treatment, court records said.

On or about Feb, 24, 2017, a sonogram revealed that the plaintiff had sustained injuries to his groin area, court documents stated.

During his deposition, Gibson said he did check Owens's groin area and searched him per policy because inmates sometimes hide items in the groin area, court documents said.

Gibson said to his knowledge his hand never made contact with Owens's groin area, court documents said.

In another deposition, Erikson said Gibson observed other inmates playing with what appeared to be dice, court documents said.

According to a detention center policy, dice would be considered contraband.

Erikson said he didn't participate in the pat down search of Owens and didn't see the full extent of it, but it appeared to be a normal pat down over the inmate's clothing, court documents said.

Erikson said Owens spoke to Gibson during the search but didn't mention being hurt, court documents said.

He said it never appeared to him the inmate was at risk or at harm, but Owens said after the search it was inappropriate, court records said. Erikson informed Owens the procedure for filing a grievance, court records said.

Erikson said he never told the inmate he agreed with Owens that the search was too aggressive.

He said Owens didn't request medical attention, and it didn't appear Owens needed medical attention. He said he wasn't deliberately indifferent to Owens' medical needs and didn't deny him medical attention, the deposition said.

Erikson said during his interaction with Owens, he acted appropriately, didn't violate his rights or treat him differently than any other inmate.

Hunt said he was unaware of the facts of the case other than from his attorney and staff at the detention center, court documents said.

Owens was treated with Tylenol and antibiotics for 10 days for his injuries , court documents stated.

Other instances

Other inmates have also addressed similar behaviors while they were incarcerated at the detention center and are included in both the state and federal cases.

Jeremy Ard said Gibson violated his civil rights and witnessed the same force used on other inmates at the detention center, court documents said.

In a videotaped deposition dated July 17, 2021, Stephen Wilhite, who was an inmate during the incident, said he also was searched during the incident and told Erikson, "you see this guy, what he's doing" as he was violently searched, court documents said.

Wilhite also stated he was also searched by Gibson and sustained the same injuries as Owens.

Next steps

Gallam declined to comment on whether the deputies involved in the case will face any disciplinary action because the litigation is ongoing.

Another case is now brewing on the federal level because Owens's Eighth Amendment rights were violated, which is cruel and unusual punishment, court documents said.

On Nov. 9, the case was filed in a federal court, according to court documents filed with the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: Beaufort Division.

The federal lawsuit only names Gibson as the defendant, court documents said.

The defendants filed a motion to appeal in common pleas on Nov. 14, to request a new trial or a notwithstanding the verdict, court records said.

On Nov. 18, the defendants named in the case filed in a motion for the same request.