A South Carolina man filed a lawsuit against the city of Rock Hill on Monday, alleging that police officers ordered him out of his house naked and held him at gunpoint while searching his home in 2019.
Jethro DeVane, 71, is suing the city for gross negligence, civil assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and outrage, false imprisonment, abuse of process, civil conspiracy and state constitutional violations, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by CNN.
The accusations stem from an incident on June 3, 2019, during which officers responded to a call from a citizen who witnessed four juveniles inside the person’s car. Citing a police report of the incident, the complaint says officers “searched the field where the suspects were last seen but did not see anyone.”
DeVane did not live near the house where police had been called, according to the complaint. The report cited in the complaint says officers continued the search after four males were seen running. The officers then saw the open door of a house, where they located DeVane, but didn’t find the juveniles.
The police report describing the officer’s interaction with DeVane is “not a true account of what occurred,” the complaint says.
Justin Bamberg, one of DeVane’s attorneys, said Tuesday during a news conference that DeVane “was treated less than human.”
“He was pulled out of his house at 70 years old, completely naked, held at gunpoint, and wasn’t even treated with any ounce of decency,” Bamberg said.
DeVane is seeking a formal apology from Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys, and is asking that Rock Hill police officers get retrained on “proper searches and seizures, and human decency,” Bamberg said.
CNN has reached out to the mayor’s office for comment.
Complaint: DeVane was ‘aggressively’ ordered out of his home
DeVane said that he was in his bedroom laying down to sleep when he noticed a light shining through a window, according to the complaint.
He went to check his yard through the back door of his house when he saw a flashlight in the distance moving toward his home from another house.
The complaint says one of the officers jumped the fence separating DeVane’s backyard from his neighbor’s house and began running towards the man’s home after another officer said over the radio a back door was open.
DeVane said he began to slowly close the door because he did not know who the person was, according to the complaint. In body cam footage, officers can be heard saying “Rock Hill police, let me see your hands! Let me see your f**cking hands! Get out! Get out! Don’t f**cking shut that door!”
According to the complaint, the officer was “aggressively pointing his department-issued firearm” at DeVane and “cussing him, was about to shoot him.” DeVane told the officer he lived in the house.
The complaint adds DeVane was “aggressively” ordered out of the home and into his backyard “completely naked.” Officers searched his home while the officer who approached him first held him at gunpoint, forcing the elderly man to “keep his hands on the outside wall of the home,” the complaint says.
Following the house search, the officer who held DeVane told him they were looking for a group of juveniles “running around trying to break into cars,” the complaint says.
Police bodycam video shared by DeVane’s attorneys shows that after the police officers searched the house, the officer who held DeVane told the elderly man he was “good to go inside.” The officer thanked DeVane and apologized.
According to the complaint, DeVane “did his best to remain calm, comply with the officer’s commands, and offer information to the officer when allowed even after he was treated so poorly.”
The complaint argues the officers did not have a search warrant and did not ask for permission to search DeVane’s home, breaking the department’s own policy.
Police say officers acted within department’s ‘established policies’
Following the incident, DeVane filed a citizen complaint with the city, according to the complaint.
The police department chief determined that while the officer that held DeVane was “discourteous,” the officers acted within the department’s “established policies and standard operating procedures.”
In a statement to CNN, the police department said it does not comment on pending litigation. The department provided the statement it released in 2019, which says the officers “focused on the residence due to the circumstances which lead them there.”
“With the reasonable belief the subjects could have run inside the residence, the residence appearing to be abandoned, and in the interest of public safety to make sure no one else was inside being harmed, our officers decided to physically check the residence,” the statement says.
According to the statement, “Mr. DeVane was detained by officers for safety as the residence was still not completely checked. Officers then conducted a protective sweep of the residence. Once officers were able to verify Mr. DeVane’s identity and account of his being at the residence they left the scene and continued checking the area for the subjects who broke into the vehicle.”
During the news conference on Tuesday, DeVane said that night he “woke up to a nightmare.” He said he did what the police officer who approached told him to.
“He’s got the weapon, I don’t,” he said. “He could have took my life in a minute.”