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Town of Pine Ridge and Councilwoman Sturkie being sued by former police officer

Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) – The Town of Pine Ridge and Councilmember Beth Spires Sturkie are being sued by a former Pine Ridge police officer for wrongful termination of his employment and several other alleged violations. Former police department Officer Johnathan Carswell’s attorney J. Paul Porter filed the suit at the end of June of this year.

Carswell was a police officer with the town for almost one year when he was fired. In the same sweeping action, former Police Chief Billy Parker was “separated” from the department and Lieutenant Eddie Powell, who was acting as interim chief at the time, was suspended and demoted. Powel resigned the next week.

The suit alleges that the town and Sturkie did several things. Sturkie’s name seems to be the only councilmember singled out because of posts she made on her Facebook account regarding Carswell’s termination. She is also key in the fact that Carswell alleges that while he was an officer, Sturkie suggested he fix a ticket for someone she knew which he didn’t do.

In the suit, Carswell alleges through his attorney that he made a routine traffic stop on January 26, 2018. During the stop, the driver attempted to avoid a ticket by discussing his connections with various town council members. Carswell still issued that driver a traffic ticket for the violation. Immediately following the traffic stop, Councilwoman Beth Spires Sturkie called or messaged Officer Carswell’s supervisor and asked if the ticket could be dropped. Later, the driver came to the Pine Ridge PD, discussed the ticket with Carswell’s supervisor, and that supervisor didn’t agree they should drop the ticket. He did however, offer to have the ticket re-written which Carswell apparently did. Shortly thereafter, the offending driver filed a complaint against Carswell with the town because he received the ticket.

It was at this point that Pine Ridge Mayor Robert Wells launched an investigation against Officer Carswell. The suit alleges that the mayor was, “Using the public complaint as a pretext for that investigation.” Sometime during this period, Carswell’s supervisor, Lieutenant Powell, who was serving as the acting chief, requested a raise for Carswell saying that he was meeting the legitimate expectations of his job. Instead of raising the officer’s salary, on around March 20, 2018, the mayor directed Powell instead to fire Carswell. When Powell refused because he felt Carswell didn’t deserve to be fired,Powell received a suspension and demotion.

In the suit, it is also alleged that Officer Carswell did not receive appropriate pay for the hours he worked. Specifically, he and other employees, were required to work 9 hours per day but were paid as if they worked 8 hours per day. According to the suit, this was a violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages act.

Councilwoman Beth Spires Sturkie is singled out in the suit because she took to Facebook defending the town’s actions and calling the firing“Justified.” Carswell’s suit alleges that this defamed him and caused his professional reputation to be hurt. According to the suit, the town also defamed Carswell when they publicized to the public at large through its officials that his termination was justified including the post made by Sturkie in her capacity as a councilmember on her Facebook account.

The suit has no specific amount listed in it, however Carswell has asked for a jury trial. The town and Sturkie have 35 days from date of service to answer these allegations. As of Wednesday, July 11, 2018, they have not.

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