Charleston Co. Sheriff's Office settles civil suit for $195,000

Charleston Co. Sheriff's Office settles civil suit for $195,000

WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - Officials with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office say a woman who filed a civil lawsuit against the department after she was shot while in protective custody will be awarded a $195,000 settlement.

Melissity Hayes filed the lawsuit in 2012 against the sheriff's office for failing to protect her family from her ex-husband, who fatally shot her mother-in-law, then shot her days later while hiding in her attic, just before committing suicide in early 2011.

Sheriff Al Cannon gave a press conference on Monday regarding the settlement and said it was the "right thing to do."

Cannon said the sheriff's office did not want Hayes to suffer any more trauma by taking the suit to trial and having to relive it again. 

The lawsuit contends deputies failed to take the proper measures to ensure safety of Hayes and her family after they obtained a restraining order against her husband, 40-year-old Ronald Ratliff.

On Jan.18, 2011, Ratliff was released from the Charleston County Detention Center after serving a 119-day sentence for assault and battery against Hayes, stemming from an incident the previous fall in which Ratliff threatened her with a butcher's knife.

Hayes had obtained a restraining order against Ratliff while he was in jail and her parents were so concerned, they traveled to Charleston to stay with Hayes, the lawsuit states.

On Jan. 22, 2011 Ratliff entered the Debbenshire Road home through an upstairs side door and walked into a room where Hayes' parents were watching television before shooting the mother, Linda Hayes, twice with a .38 caliber pistol. She died a short time later.

Ratliff also tried to kill the Hayes' father, but the gun jammed and he ran away.

Following that incident, the lawsuit alleges the sheriff's office undertook security detail as investigators came to believe Ratliff had gone to Florida. However, the lawsuit also alleges that in the three days following the shooting on Jan. 22, a neighbor reported to the sheriff's office seeing Ratliff's van in the neighborhood.

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges deputies failed to thoroughly search the residence when they returned Melissity Hayes to Debbenshire Road, as they did not search the attic.

Sheriff Cannon said when they found Ratliff's vehicle, the expected to find him dead inside. Cannon said despite Ratliff killing his wife, Mr. Hayes was concerned that Ratliff was going to commit suicide.

That day, Ratliff fired two shots from the attic, where he was hiding under insulation. He hit Hayes in the neck, lodging one bullet in her back where it remains today, the lawsuit states.

Ratliff committed suicide shortly after attempting to kill Hayes. When deputies searched the attic, the lawsuit states they found food wrappers, plates, cups, feces, and traces of urine, suggesting Ratliff had been hiding there for a "significant length of time."

Cannon described Ratliff as "determined."

According to the lawsuit, the sheriff's office should have known to search "every inch of the residence" and should have known that more than one deputy needed to be present at the home.

Cannon admitted his department was "unsuccessful in protecting her."

Moving forward, Cannon said it hasn't changed their protocol and "one policy doesn't fit all." The CCSO still handles each search on a case by case basis.

The $195,000 settlement comes from the Insurance Reserve Fund, something Charleston County pays premiums to in case they need funds for things such as this case.

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