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A man alleges in a newly filed federal lawsuit that a Charleston County sheriff’s deputy wrongfully arrested him two years ago amid the tensions that followed the George Floyd riot in Charleston.

Al Cannon, the sheriff at the time, apologized to the man and his family after his charges were dismissed, telling them “this situation should never have occurred,” according to the lawsuit. 

Richard Elijah Gerald claims false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and civil rights abuses in the lawsuit filed May 12 in U.S. District Court. 

The Sheriff’s Office has not filed a written response to the lawsuit. Spokesman Andrew Knapp said the department did not comment on pending litigation.

Gerald, 21, was arrested around 2 a.m. June 1, 2020, by Master Deputy Austin Rissanen outside a Harris Teeter grocery store off U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.

Rissanen alleged Gerald had resisted arrest and fled from officers after an encounter outside a nearby gas station, according to arrest warrant affidavits. Gerald made “profane threats” to Rissanen and another deputy outside the gas station and then left in his car, according to the records.

Gerald was alleged to have said: “(expletive) y’all, y’all gonna get yours,” according to an incident report. 

Rissanen told Gerald to repeat himself, but the man walked away, the report states. 

  • By Jocelyn Grzeszczak jgrzeszczak@postandcourier.com

Rissanen claimed he smelled burnt marijuana as Gerald left. He also said the man’s car had a defective center brake light, the affidavits state.

A curfew was in effect that night due to the May 30 riot in downtown Charleston that followed the death of Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Gerald was an employee of Harris Teeter and had just gotten off work, according to the lawsuit. 

Rissanen pursued Gerald’s vehicle in his squad car and stopped him outside the grocery store. He claimed the pursuit “continued through several streets,” but the gas station is less than 150 yards from the grocery store. The master deputy further alleged Gerald refused to exit his vehicle and had to be “taken into custody by force.” 

  • By Jocelyn Grzeszczak and Rickey Ciapha Dennis jgrzeszczak@postandcourier.com rdennis@postandcourier.com

In the lawsuit, Gerald states he put his hands outside his vehicle’s window after Rissanen stopped him to show he was unarmed. He was ordered to exit the vehicle, but “every exit was blocked by officers,” the lawsuit states. He reluctantly exited the vehicle, fearing for his life, and claimed he was injured while being roughly shackled. 

Gerald was booked into the jail on charges of resisting arrest and failing to stop for a blue light, but the case was dismissed a week later after a preliminary hearing, court records state.

Cannon allegedly told Gerald and his family that Rissanen had been disciplined and suspended as a result of the stop, the lawsuit states. 

The deputy was placed on probation for one year, the sheriff said, and he was “on notice that his job (was) in jeopardy because of the decision making he exhibited here,” according to the lawsuit.

  • By Olivia Diaz odiaz@postandcourier.com 

An internal investigation determined Rissanen had violated several department policies and procedures during the arrest.

Rissanen was subject to a second internal investigation after he allegedly displayed “improper and unsatisfactory performance” while working an emergency shift on May 31, according to the lawsuit. The court filing does not specify the issues with his performance that day.

Rissanen remains employed by the Sheriff’s Office, according to state training records. In April, he was hired by State Law Enforcement Division but left the agency after four days to return to the Sheriff’s Office, the records state. 

SLED spokeswoman Renée Wunderlich declined to answer questions about Rissanen’s employment with the state agency, saying the information would need to be requested through the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

  • By Steve Garrison sgarrison@postandcourier.com

Rissanen was first hired by the Sheriff’s Office in 2013. Before that, he worked for the Summerville and Hanahan police departments. 

Charleston attorney Ravi Sanyal is representing Gerald in the lawsuit. He declined to comment May 13. 

Rissanen is a defendant in another lawsuit filed in November 2020 in District Court. In that case, Rissanen is accused of negligence in a collision that killed a 32-year-old woman.

The crash occurred when Rissanen was responding to an emergency call Nov. 18, 2018, on James Island. 

The Sheriff’s Office has denied the allegations, and a motion to dismiss the lawsuit is pending. 

  • By Jocelyn Grzeszczak jgrzeszczak@postandcourier.com

This content was originally published here.

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