PICKENS COUNTY — A civil complaint has been filed in the 13th Judicial Court of Common Pleas against Pickens County, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and Duke Energy for gross negligence and violation of civil rights concerning events said to have taken place at Mile Creek Park in Six Mile.
The suit was filed on Nov. 20 by Jeff and Tamra Hawkins, both individually and as the guardians of “S.H.” — the couple’s minor son, according to court documents.
The complaint, written by the Hawkins’ attorney Kyle J. White of White, Davis and White Law Firm in Anderson, states in order to reduce costs at Mile Creek Park, the County made the decision to use inmates from the Pickens County Detention Center as a source of cheaper labor.
The inmates were left unsupervised and in proximity with minor children who were employed by or attending Mile Creek Park with their families, the documents claim.
It was during these unsupervised times the complaint alleges S.H. was victimized.
“During the lengthy periods of time that S.H. was alone with the inmates without any supervision by the Defendants, S.H. was forced and coerced by the inmates into using drugs, including marijuana, methamphetamines, and other drugs, and was forced and coerced into performed non-consensual sex acts with the inmates,” the documents read.
Additionally, the complaint asserts the “top-ranking County employee at the park” was aware drugs were being used.
“… it was understood that the inmates could use drugs at the park as long as they completed their work,” the documents read.
The complaint also alleges the inmates were able to coerce S.H. to meet up with them “after hours” and that on at least one occasion, “coaxed S.H. to leave his home in the middle of the night to use drugs and engage in sex acts.”
It has not been made clear in the filings whether the “inmates” were people actually in the custody of the Detention Center, former inmates hired on by the County — or a combination of the two.
The filing states S.H. was employed by Pickens County at Mile Creek Park but County officials have yet to confirm whether or not S.H. was a County employee or in what capacity he was on staff.
Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC was named as a Defendant as the filing asserts the company “owns, controls, and participates in the maintenance of Mile Creek Park, and leases Mile Creek Park to Pickens County.”
Additionally, the suit states Duke Energy had knowledge of the inmates working at the park as on “at least one occasion, Duke Energy employees witnessed employees from the County and inmates cutting trees on the property and instructed them to stop …”
When asked for comment, Randy Wheeless, a Duke Energy media spokesperson, stated he was unfamiliar with the suit and asked for clarification via email so he could “look into it.”
An hour later, Dave Scanzoni of Duke Energy corporate communications, stated the company was declining to comment.
Pickens County Media Contact, Sharon Johnson, responded to The Sentinel-Progress’ requests for comment with the following statement:
“As of the date and time of this release, Pickens County has not been served with a lawsuit regarding Pickens County Prison inmates or our recreation facilities. Therefore, we cannot respond to any specific allegations that might be found within such a suit. Additionally, we will not discuss legal issues pertaining to county facilities, employees, inmates, or those involved in Pickens County operations.
“However, we want to assure residents that the mission and goals of the Pickens County Prison remain top priority as we serve the community and help prepare inmates to re-enter society.
“The mission of the Pickens County Prison is to provide quality services that improve and enhance the safety, cleanliness, health and quality of life in our community through inmate labor while developing work ethic, job skills, and employment opportunities in an effort to eliminate re-incarceration.
“Pickens County is one of many S.C. counties that allow inmates to work while incarcerated. Both county and state inmates are many times labeled ‘trustees’ because of the work they preform both inside and outside the facility. These trustees are inmates who have either plead guilty to or have been found guilty of crimes and sentenced to the S.C. Department of Corrections, serving a misdemeanor sentence at the county level or a family court sentence. Generally, county inmates are serving time for misdemeanor, nonviolent crimes or are serving up to one year for family court violations. In addition to the county inmates housed at the Pickens County Prison, there are inmates from the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC). State inmates, who are incarcerated at SCDC, that exhibit good behavior and have a low enough classification level may become eligible to serve the remainder of their sentences at county detention centers known as Designated Facilities, such as the Pickens County Prison, often with responsibilities that allow them to spend part of their days performing work for the benefit of the public. Due to the fact that the Pickens County Prison is a minimum security facility, it does not house inmates with active sexual offense charges or past sexual offense convictions.
“Pickens County trustees are supervised by county employees and work in designated areas of the county doing various jobs such as cleaning, painting, debris pick-up and grounds work. Trustees are utilized on a seasonally adjusted basis at county facilities and outdoor recreation sites.”
Johnson also stated Pickens County has a zero tolerance policy for illegal drug use.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.