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Plaintiff in hair-pulling RCSD lawsuit looking to expand who’s held responsible

Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 7:24 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A lawsuit over a Richland County Sheriff’s Department hair-pulling incident could be expanding.

On Feb. 3, attorneys for Cierra Davis filed a motion to add four former and current sheriff’s deputies as defendants in a lawsuit involving an alleged assault.

On Feb. 22, the defense attorney for the Richland County Sheriff’s Office and Richland County filed a response stating they offered no opposition to the motion.

The lawsuit centers around an interaction between Davis and now former Master Deputy Kyle Oliver.

RELATED STORY Ι RCSD deputy fired, charged after bodycam showed him throw woman in custody to floor by hair

Body camera footage released by the sheriff’s office in September shows Oliver throwing Davis to the ground by her hair on Jan. 7, 2020, at the Region 4 Substation on Beatty Road.

Sheriff Leon Lott fired and arrest Oliver in early September, and Oliver is now facing a 3rd-degree assault and battery charge over the incident.

Currently, the Davis lawsuit names Richland County, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, Kyle Oliver in his individual capacity, and John Doe deputies in their individual capacities.

If District of South Carolina Federal Judge Shiva Hodges grants the motion request, the new defendants would be Richland County, Sheriff Leon Lott in his official capacity, Casey Signorino, Jared Free, John Parker, and Michael Pearson.

The motion comes after a Jan. 28 WIS investigation which found department records showing Signorino and Free were the only other listed deputies in the room when the incident happened.

The records showed Pearson and Parker were supervisors responsible for reviewing the incident.

In his September press conference about the interaction, Lott criticized his leadership team for not cross-referencing body camera footage with Oliver’s report, which did not mention hair pulling.

“Should have been done...That’s an existing policy. It should have been done and I’ll tell you, in this case, it wasn’t done, and that’s what I have to address. Why it wasn’t done? Was there a failure on supervisors to be a leader and a supervisor?” he said.

The department fired Signorino in the aftermath of the press conference, and Free had previously resigned in July.

In the January investigation, the department told WIS Parker retained his rank of Corporal and Lott said he would still be in the “chain” that reviewed use of force reports.

The department also confirmed Pearson retained his rank as Captain but was no longer overseeing Region 4, which is the northwestern part of the county.

The amended lawsuit would allege the following of the four individuals:

“That on January 7, 2020, Defendant Oliver became enraged with Plaintiff while she sat on the bench referenced above, approached her in a menacing and threatening manner, grasped either side of Plaintiff’s head by her hair, and proceeded to throw Plaintiff to the ground in front of the bench.

That on January 7, 2020, Defendant Signorino, Defendant Free, and Defendant Deputies observed the above detailed actions of Defendant Oliver and took no action whatsoever to prevent Defendant Oliver from engaging in this conduct. Furthermore, Defendant Signorino, Defendant Free, and Defendant Deputies did not render aid to Plaintiff, did not report Defendant Oliver’s behavior to any authority whatsoever, and otherwise assisted Defendant Oliver in his attempt to injure Plaintiff as a result of Defendant Oliver’s inability to control his emotions.

That on January 7, 2020, Defendant Oliver, Defendant Signorino, Defendant Free, and Defendant Deputies degraded Plaintiff through the use of profane, vile, insulting, and otherwise inappropriate comments related to her womanhood, her femininity, her character, her mental state, and her personhood.

That on January 7, 2020, neither Defendant Oliver, Defendant Signorino, Defendant Free, nor Defendant Deputies offered Plaintiff any medical treatment for her injuries prior to taking her to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center where she was incarcerated for multiple days prior to being able to make bond.

That following January 7, 2020, upon information and belief, Defendant Oliver, Defendant Signorino, Defendant Free, and Defendant Deputies submitted misleading or otherwise false information regarding the use of force used on Plaintiff on January 7, 2020.

That following January 7, 2020, Defendant Pearson and Defendant Parker reviewed and approved the misleading or otherwise false submissions of Defendant Oliver, Defendant Signorino, Defendant Free, and Defendant Deputies regarding their use of force used on Plaintiff on January 7, 2020 as appropriate and without the need for discipline, follow-up, or further action.

That following January 7, 2020, upon information and belief, Defendant County, Defendant Richland, Defendant Pearson, and Defendant Parker failed to follow up in any manner as to the events of January 7, 2020 involving Plaintiff to include, but not be limited to, reviewing the body camera of Defendant Oliver, Defendant Signorino, Defendant Free, and Defendant Deputies, until almost eight months later.

That upon information and belief, there exists no evidence to support that any follow-up whatsoever would have occurred by Defendant County, Defendant Richland, Defendant Pearson, or Defendant Parker should a call from a unrelated third party not have been made directly to Sheriff Leon Lott of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

That due to the behavior described herein of all Defendants, Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer physical injuries, physical distress, emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, mental trauma, and other ongoing issues.”

Signorino and Oliver filed defensive action reports to document the force they used with Davis. Neither mentioned hair-pulling.

In a December interview with WIS, Signorino said he was headbutted before Oliver threw Davis by her hair.

“I reached behind her to take another pair of handcuffs, to handcuff her to the back of the bench so I was behind her whenever I went to do that,” Signorino said. “That’s whenever she took her head and she threw it back and she head-butted me right on the side of my temple.”

At the time she said she did not Oliver was worth reporting, and in an interview on Feb. 23, stood by the decision making surrounding the incident.

“There was no assault and battery to report, instead it was a use of force, and we reported it properly.”

She went on to state:

“We all felt the same exact way that Oliver’s actions, they were a reaction to her aggressive actions, and you have to do what you have to do sometimes when someone is that violent, and you have to get a hold of her.”

Free declined to comment on this story, and the Department declined to comment when offered an opportunity for Pearson or Parker to speak.

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