CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Hollywood man wounded in the neck and left paralyzed by a deputy responding to a home invasion call filed a $25 million civil suit against the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and several of its employees.
Bryant Heyward, then 26, was shot at his home in 2015 by a Charleston County deputy, according to an incident report.
Heyward is now a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down, and suffered "irreparable physical, mental and emotional harm," the suit states. Heyward says he has since developed diabetes, sacral ulcers and has incurred more than $1 million in medical bills.
He will require lifelong medical care and treatment and the total cost for such care is expected to exceed $25 million over the course of his life, the suit states.
The suit alleges gross negligence against the dispatcher and the supervisor of the Charleston County Consolidated Dispatch Center, the sheriff's office, Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas and Sheriff Al Cannon; negligent hiring, supervision and retention against the sheriff's office and the dispatch center; battery against the two deputies who responded to the scene, assault against the deputy who fired at Heyward, violation of Heyward's civil rights against the deputies and civil conspiracy against the sheriff's office and several of its employees.
Heyward claims the dispatch center was understaffed and not properly trained to handle his call for help, that the sheriff's office failed to follow proper protocol and reasonable care, that deputies violated his civil rights and that the sheriff's office then released false statements about the events leading up to the shooting.
Heyward was home alone on May 5, 2015, when he heard someone trying to burglarize the home then fire shots inside, the suit states. Heyward called Charleston County Consolidated Dispatch and told dispatchers he was able to locate a gun in the home that belonged to his brother and return fire. He called the Charleston County Dispatch Center and reported to them what was happening, and provided the names and descriptions of the assailants, the exact location of the home and where he was hiding inside the home, the suit states.
At the same time, Heyward's grandmother, who lives next door, called dispatchers to report seeing two men on bicycles ride away through her drive, the suit states.
Heyward's suit alleges a 911 dispatcher instructed him to stay in the laundry room where he said he was hiding if he felt safe there, and said if Heyward felt he could leave safely, to get out and call from a safer location.
"I closed the laundry room and I'm at the back door. Please hurry," Heyward responded, the suit alleges. Heyward said he told the dispatcher multiple times before deputies arrived that he was in the laundry room and that the back door was half-way open.
Two Charleston County deputies arrived on the scene and began searching for possible suspects, proceeding to the rear of the home, where they walked up the back steps leading to the back door of the home, the suit states. Deputy Keith Tyner began to enter through the back door and immediately saw Heyward, the suit states.
"Within one second of first sight, Tyner shoots [Heyward] while simultaneously yelling, 'show me your hands,'" the suit alleges. Tyner and the second officer, Deputy Richard Powell, dragged Heyward out of the laundry room, causing a "severe laceration" which would later require stitches "as well as worsened the severity of the initial spinal cord injury," the suit states.
The suit alleges that while Heyward was being tended to by EMS personnel in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital, a Charleston County detective recorded an interview in an attempt "to secure a potential dying declaration should [Heyward] succumb to his injuries," the suit alleges.
During the recorded interview, a portion of which was later released by the sheriff's office, Heyward gave the detective his account of the actual shooting.
"The officer did it but it was an accident. He didn't know who I was, he saw the gun," Heyward said in the recording. "I should have put the gun down, but I didn't, and he thought that I was the crook and he shot," he said a short time later in the recording.
Heyward also claims the sheriff's department made false statements about the shooting, which had occurred a month after a fatal shooting of a motorist by a North Charleston police officer on April 4, 2015. In that case, officer Michael Slager fatally shot Walter Scott after Scott fled a traffic stop. Scott was terminated and charged with murder after a bystander video of the incident went public. Heyward's suit alleges the Scott shooting sparked a public outcry and obtained international attention, which led sheriff's office employees "to attempt to quell unrest that was certain to follow" the shooting of Heyward.
Heyward claimed the sheriff's office intentionally made "false and misleading public statements and representations" about what occurred "in an attempt to avoid the repercussions and public backlash."
The suit alleges the sheriff's office released a portion of the audio of Heyward's ambulance interview "to create the purported perception that [Heyward] 'should have dropped the gun,' had time to process the deputies' commands yet willingly chose to disregard them, and that the shooting was 'an accident.'" The suit disputes statements on behalf of the sheriff's office that stated the deputies "saw a man standing near the doorway and holding a gun" and that Heyward "confronted" the deputies. Heyward claims while there was no body camera footage, body microphone audio released days after the incident directly contradicted the statements, showing that the deputies "never once ordered" Heyward to drop his weapon or mentioned a weapon at all, and says deputies shot him within one second of first seeing him.
The suit requests a jury trial and damages in excess of $25 million, including consequential and punitive damages.