ATLANTIC BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Atlantic Beach Mayor Retha Pierce and seven other people have filed a $50 million lawsuit against the town and 14 current and past leaders for conspiring "to bring about the demise of the town of Atlantic Beach."
The plaintiffs say the 16 defendants conspired against the town - described in the suit as "one of the last fully chartered predominantly black oceanfront municipalities left in the nation" - "by tampering with the town's elections and voting districts, strategically reducing the town's population and eliminating its largest and strongest voting base, mismanagement of tax dollars and town government, and changing legal documents to blur the town's identity as a municipality separate and apart from the City of North Myrtle Beach."
[Click here to view the lawsuit (PDF)]
Pierce and plaintiffs Nicole Kenion, commissioner Atlantic Beach municipal election, Patricia Bellamy, Atlantic Beach Concerned Citizens, Tema Hill, president Housing Authority of Atlantic Beach Residents Association, Harriet Cochran, president Atlantic Beach Landowners Association, Bobby Suggs, Kantrese Wright and Derrick Stanley filed the suit in Florence on July 2.
The suit claims that the named defendants - Town of Atlantic Beach; Irene Armstrong, former mayor of Atlantic Beach; Gary Bell, chair of the board of the Housing Authority of Atlantic Beach; Lynda Booker, municipal election commissioner; William Booker, Atlantic Beach town manager; Marcia Conner, former Atlantic Beach town manager; Elneta Counts; State Rep. Tracy Edge; Sen. Dick Elliott; Councilman Jake Evans; Jacqueline Gore, clerk; Alice Graham, municipal election commission chair; Councilwoman Josephine Isom; David Meachem of the Statesville Housing Authority; Cheryl Pereira, town clerk and clerk to Atlantic Beach municipal election commission; and "Pretend Mayor" Charlene Taylor - broke local, state and federal laws and "violated the rights of the Plaintiffs and other landowners and residents for a sustained period of more than 30 years."
The suit, which contains nearly 200 allegations against the city and its leaders, claims the defendants denied voters their right to vote by systematically working to "disenfranchise the poor and their political opponents;" conspired to impede, hinder, obstruct and defeat the "due course of justice" by denying the plaintiffs equal protection and intimidating them to prevent them from voting and participating in public meetings; discriminated against them on basis of race and political association; deprived them of rights; violated their First Amendment freedom of speech and rights to associate with whomever they choose; conspiracy; and failure to prevent deprivation of rights.
Pierce and the other plaintiffs are asking the court to pay them actual, consequential and punitive damages of more than $50 million.
Pierce has been an embattled leader since winning the mayoral seat in 2008. She was arrested on suspicion of DUI in 2009, five months after she was arrested on hit and run and failure to provide proof of insurance charges in April 2009.
She was also arrested in December 2007 on charges of reckless driving and failure to use a proper turn signal, and again in January 2008 after an argument with town officials.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford suspended Pierce as the town's mayor in October 2009 after she was indicted by a South Carolina grand jury for the hit and run incident.
Mayor Pro Tem Charlene Taylor has been serving the town as mayor since that time.