Man shot, paralyzed during drug bust files suit against officers - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

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Man shot, paralyzed during drug bust files suit against officers

Julian Betton. Julian Betton.

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A Myrtle Beach man has filed a federal lawsuit against the Horry County Solicitor and officers with the Drug Enforcement Unit; he claims they violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they stormed into his home while serving a narcotics warrant and shot him nine times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by a lawyer representing 31-year-old Julian Ray Betton names DEU Commander Bill Knowles, Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson, and the DEU officers involved in the raid on Betton’s home on April 16, 2015.

In an investigative file from SLED, nearly all of the officers and witnesses interviewed said the DEU agents wore clothing clearly marked with official law enforcement insignia. They added that officers knocked and announced they were police serving a search warrant as they entered  Betton's home.

But the lawsuit claims that a surveillance video from Betton's front porch shows none of those statements are true.

The lawsuit claims that the officers were dressed in plain clothes with nothing to identify them as law enforcement. Betton's attorney says the agents violated Betton’s Fourth Amendment rights by failing to knock on his door and announce their presence before storming into his home. The suit also alleges that upon entering his home, the officers “immediately began firing indiscriminately in Betton’s general direction,” firing at least 57 bullets, nine of which hit Betton.

"Allowing officers to get away with just their word needs to stop because people are dying," Betton's Attorney Jonny McCoy said. "Julian almost died and there's still a chance he could. I mean it's a miracle that he lived."

Betton was in a coma for approximately six weeks, and underwent multiple surgeries to remove his gallbladder, and portions of his bowel, colon and rectum, according to the lawsuit. Doctors fused two of his vertebrae and inserted a metal rod into his leg to reinforce his broken femur. As a result, Betton has lost the use of both legs and will be paralyzed for life.

The lawsuit alleges that DEU systemically lied in an attempt to cover up misconduct by the officers involved. Solicitor Jimmy Richardson originally announced that Betton had fired the first shot, and the DEU officers returned fire. An independent investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division revealed that Betton did not shoot at the officers, but he did allegedly point his gun at them.

“The officers were entitled to defend themselves from the moment he presented a danger to their lives by presenting the weapon,” Brackett stated in a letter to the State Law Enforcement Division, the agency conducting the investigation into the shooting.

The lawsuit claims that Betton did have a handgun in the waistband of his pants, but he was shot before he could draw the weapon. The lawsuit further suggests that Betton would have been justified in drawing and shooting the three unidentified armed intruders in his living room.

The SLED investigation contends that the DEU agents did knock and announce “Police Search Warrant” before breaching Betton’s front door.  However, surveillance video from Betton’s front porch shows that no one knocked on Betton’s door, and while there is no audio on the video, the lawsuit alleges that no one said anything before an agent used a battering ram  to breach Betton’s door.

The lawsuit further alleges that the SLED investigation relied on false statements from the DEU officers, and that the SLED investigation falsely characterized Betton as a violent criminal who ignored the officers’ attempts to peacefully gain entry into his apartment.

Because of the alleged misconduct on behalf of the DEU commander, the DEU officers, and the Solicitor, Betton is seeking compensatory, punitive and special damages in an amount to be determined at trial. 

Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson says these claims can only be worked out in court.

"That's the sort of stuff that needs to be paired out in the lawsuit itself," Richardson said. "I don't really want to discuss what was on the video or what wasn't."

We also received a statement from Horry County DEU Commander Bill Knowles who has been named in the lawsuit as well. 

"Not really having full opportunity to review the lawsuit my only comments would be, Mr. McCoy has a very good imagination. The courtroom is the proper place for these allegations to be further discussed," Knowles said in a statement sent to WMBF.

The lawsuit and SLED investigation file both say the officers had body cameras, but that they were only turned on after the shooting incident.

WMBF tried requesting that video from SLED, but they said it could not be released by citing Section 23-1-240(G)(1), “Data recorded by a body-worn camera is not a public record subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Also in the SLED investigation, authorities said there was no evidence to support criminal charges against any of the officers involved in the incident that day.It goes on to say that during the incident Betton appeared and confronted the officers by pointing a handgun at them.
While he did not fire the weapon, authorities say that was enough to give officers the right to defend themselves in the moment.

Arrest warrants were filed Monday against Betton for charges of pointing and presenting a weapon on that day back in April. However, Betton's lawyers argue that it was his right to defend himself within his own home as well because he wasn't aware that the people breaking through his front door were law enforcement officers.

"We had to wait for SLED to complete their investigation and findings and with the defendant's medical condition arrangements had to be made to personally serve him. We were in discussion with his attorney on how and when to serve him so that he wouldn't be taken back into custody, as a courtesy. Mr. Betton was indicted by an Horry County Grand jury. Warrants for his arrest were not just obtained," Knowles said.

Related Stories:

Man shot and paralyzed by police shares his side of the story

Charges, questions continue surrounding drug raid and officer-involved shooting

Officers justified in shooting drug warrant suspect in Myrtle Beach, solicitor says

Officers serving warrant were shot at, returned fire, injuring suspect, officials say

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