Former Inmate Sues SCDJJ After He Was Sexually Abused By Guard At Age 16, Federal Lawsuit Says

More problems at SCDJJ…

Gary Whisonant of Columbia

A former South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) inmate who says he was sexually abused by a guard when he was a teenager has filed a lawsuit in federal court. 

The Colleton County man — who will be referred to as John Doe as he is an alleged sexual assault victim — filed the lawsuit in Richland County Court of Common Pleas in September. The case was moved to federal court Feb. 6 after a judge decided the claims involve Doe’s constitutional rights. 

Doe, now 26, was sexually abused by Gary D. Whisonant on multiple occasions in 2011 while he was an inmate at SCDJJ’s Birchwood campus of the Broad River Road Complex in Columbia, South Carolina, according to the lawsuit. Doe was 16 at the time and Whisonant was 28.

In 2011, Doe was serving time for “an assault charge that did not involve a sexual offense,” but he was “inappropriately housed in a dorm for sex offenders,” according to the lawsuit. 

According to the lawsuit, the “sexually abusive pattern” began with Whisonant gaining Doe’s trust and attention by buying him fast food, snacks, etc. Whisonant slowly escalated his aggressive behavior toward Doe — first by talking about sexual matters, then by rubbing Doe’s shoulders and grabbing his hand affectionately. 

Whisonant, of Columbia, would take Doe to “isolated areas” like the chapel when the sexual abuse began— despite the fact that other officers were around to see this, the lawsuit said.

“Whisonant would emphasize that as a corrections officer, he had authority and could do various things that would favor (Doe),” the lawsuit said. 

Eventually, during these times alone, he would start to touch Doe’s privates. Sometime between August and September 2011, Whisonant “persuaded” Doe to have sex, the lawsuit said.

The 11-page lawsuit accuses Whisonant of using excessive force while pursuing inappropriate sexual activity with a minor (Doe). 

According to the lawsuit, Doe told other corrections officers about the sexual abuse and other inmates were aware of it. 

Whisonant was arrested Oct. 7, 2011 and charged with two counts of sexual conduct with an inmate, two counts of misconduct in office, and assault and battery. He was fired the day before his arrest, according to Prison Legal News. WIS reported he confessed at the time, according to the warrants.

He pled guilty to four of those charges, according to online documents. He was sentenced to three years probation, which he violated in 2016.

The lawsuit accuses SCDJJ officials of violating Doe’s Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to intervene and protect Doe from Whisonant’s unconstitutional use of force and by failing to train and supervise its employees.

The lawsuit includes ten separate claims against SCDJJ for failure to supervise, negligent hiring, and assaults and batteries suffered by Doe.

“SCDJJ knew or should have known that due to the existence of a dorm for juvenile sex offenders, potential predators would be attracted to working in or around a dorm for juvenile sex offenders,” the lawsuit said.

As a result, Doe “suffered physical injury, psychological harm, experienced pain and suffering, mental anguish, and a loss of enjoyment of life.”

Summerville, South Carolina attorney Asby Fulmer is representing Doe in the lawsuit, and Lexington, South Carolina attorney Patrick Fawley is representing SCDJJ. 

Other SCDJJ lawsuit

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice ( (DOJ) found that conditions Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) in Columbia, South Carolina, violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The DOJ released an 18-page report detailing the level of the violence, abuse and harsh conditions at the Columbia facility housing an average of over 100 teens who are all under 17-years old.

In a letter to Gov. Henry McMaster, whose administration oversees the Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ), assistant attorney general Eric Dreiband said the DOJ’s extensive investigation found that “South Carolina fails to keep youth reasonably safe from youth-on-youth violence at the BRRC.”

“SCDJJ, through its failure to train its staff, implement effective behavior management tools, and establish key safety features in its physical plant, seriously harms youth or places them at substantial risk of serious harm from other youth,” the letter said. “Additionally, SCDJJ seriously harms youth by using isolation for punitive rather than legitimate purposes and by placing youth in isolation for lengthy periods.”

The report contained shocking numbers on youth violence in the BRRC. In an 11-month timeframe, there were:

  • 134 fights
  • 71 assaults
  • 99 injuries from violence
  • Fights and assaults 2 of every 3 days (average).

The report details graphic incidents of violence in which the guards failed to protect the youth. 

The Attorney General could file a lawsuit if these conditions are not corrected within 49 days, according to the letter. However, Dreiband wrote they hope “to resolve this matter through a more cooperative approach.”



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