$500,000 settlement reached in Darlington wrongful death case

By Jana E. Pye, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Two Darlington County law enforcement officers, Robert McIntyre and John Specht, named in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of Ernest Russell of Darlington, settled claims against them last week in the amount of $500,000. Russell died after being shot during the execution of a no-knock warrant led by the Darlington County Drug Enforcement Unit to search for illegal gambling on October 21, 2011 at a building at 1312 S. Main Street in Darlington, according to documents on record with the U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina Florence Division.

The lawsuit was filed by Ernestine Wingate as personal representative of the Estate of Ernest Russell against the following defendants:

Wayne Byrd, both individually and in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Darlington County; Darlington County Sheriff’s Office; Darlington County; The City of Darlington Police Department; The City of Darlington; Ben Weatherford; Robert McIntyre; Clyde M. Shepherd; John Specht; Judith Kate Green, and John Does 1 – 10.

According to documents, all defendants have been released from the lawsuit and/or settled with the exception of Darlington County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Ben Weatherford, Darlington County, and Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd.

According to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigative report by Special Agent Glenn McLellan on November 15, 2011, Sgt. Ben Weatherford was interviewed five days after the incident, on October 26, 2011, in the presence of his attorney, Paul Cannarella. In the SLED report, Weatherford provided a voluntary typed statement. The following is verbatim account from the SLED report:

“Sgt. Weatherford said after they could not force entry using the rear door, Sgt. Weatherford went to the front door which was unlocked. Sgt. Weatherford said he entered the building yelling “Sheriff’s Office Search Warrant.” Sgt. Weatherford pulled out his duty weapon and continued to announce “Sheriff’s Office.” Sgt. Weatherford observed Judith Green walking away from the counter with her hands up. Then, Sgt. Weatherford observed Ernest Russell bending over behind the counter. Sgt. Weatherford continued to tell Ernest Russell to show his hands but he would not do it. Sgt. Weatherford observed a gun in Ernest Russell’s right hand and Ernest Russell laid the gun down on the counter but did not take his hand off of the gun. Sgt. Weatherford said Ernest Russell raised the gun towards him and Sgt. Weatherford shot Ernest Russell.”

In his typed statement, Weatherford noted the following:

• Identified himself as a police officer several times upon entering the second door
• Told Russell to put his hands up “several times”
• Instructed Russell to drop his gun several times

The SLED file reports that shots were also fired by Cpl. Robert McIntyre.

Documented evidence in this case challenges the accuracy of officers’ sworn statements given to SLED. The News and Press will continue to share information about this case as it becomes available.

Author: Duane Childers

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