A circuit court judge will decide this week whether to force the Horry County Police Department to release the personnel files of two former officers to a lawyer representing a woman who has accused former detective Allen Large of sexual assault.
The attorney is also seeking citizen complaints and internal affairs files about all HCPD employees accused of making unwanted sexual advances or sexual abuse.
Judge Roger Henderson on Monday heard arguments from James Moore, the woman’s lawyer, and Samuel Arthur, who represents the county and the police department.
Moore is asking for the personnel records of former officer Chris Peterson and former detective Todd Cox.
He said he plans to interview both men and needs those
records to prepare for the depositions.
“We did not just randomly select these two individuals and request their personnel files,” Moore said, adding that Large worked with both Cox and Peterson.
Files show disciplinary history
A 27-year veteran of the department, Large was fired on July 31, 2015, after county officials sustained allegations of sexual assault against him, according to public records. Last week, Large was indicted on six counts of misconduct in office and five counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
“The indictments allege that Large knowingly used coercion to engage in sexual battery with multiple victims and knowingly engaged in inappropriate relationships with victims of cases he was investigating,” according to a release from the state Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case. Cox, who retired from the HCPD on May 6, was also indicted last week on 16 counts of misconduct in office. Prosecutors have accused him of closing cases without investigating them and allowing them to remain unassigned for long periods. Some of the cases Cox is accused of mishandling include sexual crimes against children, lynching, attempted murder and armed robbery.
The indictments state that Cox didn’t investigate 18 cases.
Disciplinary reports obtained by myhorrynews.com through an open records request show Cox was demoted in 2013 from detective to patrol officer for “incompetent or inefficient performance or dereliction of duty.”
Cox falsified records and refused to do assigned work, according to the disciplinary reports.
Records indicate this behavior happened for more than a year (between July 2011 and November 2012). When he was demoted, Cox’s salary was reduced by 5 percent.
But Cox continued to work for county. When he retired, he had regained his detective status. The records released by the county don’t indicate what led to that change.
Peterson was not indicted, but he was fired a day before Large, according to records obtained from the county. A letter signed by former chief Saundra Rhodes states that the agency conducted an internal investigation of Peterson after he spoke with someone who had filed an incident report on July 3, 2015.
“The complainant alleged that after the police report was provided, you began texting, flirting with the subject,” Rhodes wrote. “You then arranged a meeting behind a real estate office while on duty which resulted in inappropriate conduct.”
The incident was the second one that landed Peterson in trouble in less than a year, according to county records.
He received a written reprimand and counseling in January 2015 for text messages he exchanged with someone who had filed a theft report a month before.
Police department records describe the messages as “not job related” and “not in the best interest of Horry County,” but they offer few details beyond those.
After the first incident, Peterson was told not to contact the person who filed the theft report and to maintain a professional relationship with other citizens, according to a disciplinary report. The police department agreed to monitor videos of the officer to ensure compliance.
When he was fired, Peterson refused to sign his letter of termination, according to county records.
Peterson told myhorrynews.com in June that he didn’t know why anyone would want his personnel records and that he had nothing to do with Large.
Cox could not be reached for comment.
The plaintiff in the civil lawsuit is a Georgetown County woman who has only been identified as Jane Doe.
Arthur, the county’s attorney, had filed a motion asking the court to force the woman to publicly identify herself, but on Monday he withdrew that request.
Filed on Dec. 22, the woman’s lawsuit alleges she called police on Christmas Day in 2013 to report that she had been sexually assaulted by someone she knew.
Large was assigned to handle her case. The woman alleges Large insisted on meeting her at home and over a six-month period the detective “engaged in a course of coercive behavior, unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault,” according to the lawsuit. The woman said Large once assaulted her in his police vehicle.
The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigated the woman’s allegations — and complaints from other women — and that inquiry led to last week’s indictment of Large.
Since the first lawsuit was filed, three other women have sued the county with Moore’s assistance and two have sued Large individually.
A fight over records
During Monday’s hearing, Moore pointed out that the county had provided myhorrynews.com with disciplinary records for Cox and Peterson but had not given his office those documents.
Moore also said the county should be forced to turn over all citizen complaints about officers making unwanted sexual advances or sexual assaults and any internal affairs files connected to those allegations.
Those documents, he said, are necessary for his client to prove the county knew about these problems within the agency.
“Not only are these prior incidents necessary to support our allegations, these prior incidents go to the heart of the defense that they had no knowledge, they had no notice of this problem within the department,” Moore said. “Our position, your honor, is that notice can’t be used as a sword and a shield. If that’s going to be their defense, then we certainly should have the opportunity to investigate that.”
Arthur argued that the woman’s case is not about Cox or Peterson and their personnel records are not relevant. He said the woman acknowledged in a July deposition that she did not know Cox or Peterson.
“We have produced a wealth of information as it relates to Allen Large,” he said, adding that the county had released Large’s personnel file and internal affairs records. “Our position is very simple: This case is about Allen Large. … They’re asking the court to open the door to the internal affairs files and the personnel files of officers that don’t have anything to do [with this case].”
Arthur added that complying with the plaintiff’s request would mean the department would have to search through the files of each employee. He called the request too broad and too burdensome for the county and insisted the search wouldn’t yield any information relevant to the case. He said the material would simply be fodder for additional civil litigation.
Moore disagreed, countering that this particular case was against the county and the police department, not Large individually.
“We have alleged in the complaint that knowledge was widespread,” he said. “There was a failure to investigate. There was a failure to take remedial action.”
When there was a complaint of sexual harassment or assault, Moore said, there should have been a documented investigation.
“I find it hard to believe that it’s too burdensome for this police department that has nearly 300 employees to go back and look through the internal affairs files,” he said.
“If they would like for us to do it, we’ll go through the internal affairs files.”
Henderson said he would review the lawsuit and respond to the lawyers later this week.