Crime & Courts

Lawsuit Filed Against Upstate South Carolina Police Department

“Red flags” ignored, pleading alleged …

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A federal lawsuit was filed in Greenville, South Carolina this week against an Upstate police officer – and the agency which employed him – over an alleged sexual assault.

The lawsuit – filed on behalf of the unnamed survivor of the assault – detailed abuses allegedly perpetrated by officer Gerard James Hildebrandt of the Travelers Rest, S.C. police department. Both Hildebrant and the agency are listed as as defendants in the federal action.

According to the pleading (.pdf), the victim in the case was involved in a “verbal dispute” with her boyfriend on July 3, 2022. Hildebrant, 42, of Honea Path, S.C. was the responding officer for this altercation. According to the lawsuit, he commanded the woman to “follow him in her car to a local park where she could ‘sober up’ so she would not be charged with driving under the influence.”

Hildebrant proceeded to lead the victim to a “secluded area” on the campus of Travelers Rest High School where he “forcefully removed (her) shorts, forced her legs open, performed non-consensual oral sex on her, and digitally penetrated her without her consent,” the lawsuit alleged.

Hildebrant then forced the woman to “perform oral sex on him,” wearing his badge and service weapon throughout the assault, according to the lawsuit.

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The victim sustained “vaginal tears” as well as “bruises from her collarbone to her toes” as well as “significant mental and emotional trauma,” per the pleading.

In April of this year, Hildebrant was charged criminally (.pdf) with third degree criminal sexual conduct and misconduct in office by the office of S.C. thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins. Those charges are still pending.

Travelers Rest police chief Ben Ford terminated Hildebrandt following his arrest, however he insisted there were no “red flags” when the department made the decision to hire him in December 2021. Just months prior, however, Hildebrandt was fired from the Laurens County sheriff’s office for violating its policies regarding placing detainees in chokeholds. In fact, the lawsuit filed this week alleged Hildebrandt carried a detainee into a booking area at the R. Eugene Johnson detention center on July 29, 2021 using an unlawful chokehold and “continued to choke (him) and smash his face into the booking area’s glass window.”

“If chief Ford doesn’t think this kind of violence and criminality constitutes a red flag, then what does?” said Bakari Sellers, an attorney with the Columbia, S.C.-based Strom Law firm. “That’s exactly the kind of deliberate indifference that leads to a predator like Hildebrandt wearing a badge and a gun so he can take a woman to a dark, secluded area of Travelers Rest High School, rape her and think he’ll get away with it.”

In addition to the Hildebrant case, the lawsuit filed by Sellers’ firm on behalf of the victim cited a “history of excessive force complaints and allegations of sexual assaults and Constitutional rights’ violations committed by (Travelers Rest) police officers.” It cited a 2019 incident involving a police officer who allegedly “threatened a minor involved in a Boy Scouts Post 466 mentoring program with his department-issued taser.” The police officer – Shawn Jenkins – then forced the boy to strip and “sexually assaulted him,” according to the lawsuit.

A civil compliant filed in connection with that incident settled in January 2022.

As with anyone accused of committing any crime, Hildebrandt is considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as he may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges filed against him.

As for the civil case against him and his department, we will await the filing of responses from his attorney and attorneys for the agency.

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THE LAWSUIT ...

(Via: U.S. District Court)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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