Darlington councilwoman files civil rights lawsuit, claiming ‘racially motivated’ actions by mayor, city manager

Pee Dee

DARLINGTON, S.C. (WBTW) — A Darlington councilwoman, who has been accused of using racially charged language toward a police officer, filed a lawsuit against the mayor and others for civil rights violations and filing a false police report.

Councilwoman Sheila Baccus filed the lawsuit in federal court on April 23 against Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd, Councilman John Segars, City Manager Howard Garland, and a School Resource Officer with Darlington PD, Paul Bryant.

She’s suing for deprivation of civil rights against all defendants, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights against all defendants, violation of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act against Boyd, and slander and libel against all defendants.

On June 17, 2020, Baccus was working in a garden in front of a home on Oak Street in Darlington and was parked on the curb, according to the lawsuit. Bryant gave Baccus a parking ticket and she claims the entire conversation she had with him on why she was being ticketed was recorded on Bryant’s bodycam.

Baccus claims an incident report filed by Bryant falsely accused her of telling him to “take your white self back to the white neighborhood,” according to the lawsuit.

She also claims a day later during a meeting, Garland said if the details in the incident report were released to the public it would damage her reputation. Police Chief Kevin Washington and City Attorney Kevin Etheridge were also at the meeting, she said. She was told she needed to apologize to Bryant, the lawsuit says.

A special meeting was called for July 21. Baccus claims that during the meeting, Bryant was allowed to reiterate the false claims against her, according to the lawsuit. The bodycam footage was allegedly played during the executive session at that meeting.

Boyd called for a motion to send the case to the South Carolina Ethics Commission and Gov. McMaster, according to the lawsuit. Baccus claims in the lawsuit that the case was referred to the ethics commission with the intent to remove her from the city council. No further information has been provided on where the case stands at this time.

In the lawsuit, Baccus says Garland encouraged news coverage of the incident and released the incident report to media outlets that requested it — including News13 — within one to two days, despite taking weeks to release similar incident reports involving Bryant, according to the lawsuit.

Baccus claims the decision to release the report was “motivated by racial animus,” according to the lawsuit. She also claims Boyd wanted to remove her from council for questioning unethical practices by him and other councilmembers, including Segars.

Challenging council’s contracts

Baccus says she challenged council’s decisions to award municipal contracts to Davis & Brown and North American Construction instead of Lathan Consulting Corporation (LCC). Baccus claims the decision was made because the owners of the company Davis & Brown and North American Construction are owned by friends of Boyd, Segars, and Garland. The lawsuit notes the owner of LCC is an African American woman.

Baccus claims Segars made false accusations about LCC and its owner during public meetings and public work sessions. LCC had previously been awarded contracts by the city, according to the lawsuit.

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The owner of LCC filed a Cease and Desist against Segars, copying the city manager and city attorney in September 2018 due to the accusations hurting her reputation, according to the lawsuit.

Baccus also accuses the city of giving a bid made by LCC to Davis & Brown when LCC was the only company to submit a bid for a project so Davis & Brown could submit their own bid, according to the lawsuit.

Use of public office for private gain

Baccus claims Boyd, Segars, and other members of council wanted her removed because she questioned their use of their positions for “public enrichment,” the lawsuit says. She says Boyd’s gym is given money from the city for city employees and their families to use the gym. She also accuses Boyd of receiving money from the city for his printing business to print signs for the city.

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Baccus claims Segars gets money from the city for a business he owns to put flooring, tile, and carpeting in city buildings, according to the lawsuit.

Ignoring sewage issues in African American neighborhoods

Baccus also claims Boyd, Segars, and Garland wanted to remove her from council because she exposed “dangerous living conditions in Wards 1 and 2 and for demanding the equal treatment of citizens in those Wards, who are majority African American, and the residents of other Wards, who are majority white,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Ward 1 has “extensive sewer disrepair and maintenance problems,” citing sewage backups on Farm Street, Harlee Drive, and Southern Pine Street. The lawsuit says most residents on those streets are African American.

Baccus claims the city diverts raw sewage from the sewage down storm drains in violation of state law and failed to report the sewage backups to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

Baccus claims the city refused to take action even after she urged them to, according to the lawsuit.

Firing African Americans to promote white men

Baccus says the city openly holds “racial animus” towards African Americans by firing them from their jobs without cause and promoting white employees who don’t have proper occupational licenses, according to the lawsuit. She claims the city inspector, a white man, was employed even though he failed to pass the commercial exam within the two-year limit imposed by Garland. She claims the former city inspector, an African American man, was fired for failing the same exam.

She also says the city demoted an African American woman from her position with the Streets and Sanitation department to give that position to a white man, according to the lawsuit.

Other racial actions of councilmembers

The lawsuit cites two incidents between Boyd and African Americans at his gym in which Boyd allegedly accused an African American man of using a membership card that wasn’t his to access the gym and followed him to his car. The other incident mentioned claims Boyd threatened to assault two other men for using a membership card that didn’t belong to them and leaving weights around the gym.

These incidents were prior to Boyd being elected mayor of Darlington, according to the lawsuit.

Baccus says during a Feb. 2, 2021 council meeting, she wasn’t allowed to speak on an issue even though two white council members were each given 15 minutes, according to the lawsuit.

Fallout from “false police report”

The lawsuit claims that the collective actions show a “disturbing pattern of redressable civil rights violations.” The lawsuit says Baccus has suffered from the defendants’ efforts to hurt her personally and politically. She claims she has suffered due to the repeated and coordinated efforts to remove her from her position on city council.

Baccus claims the actions were racially motivated and deprived her of constitutional rights and privileges by filing a false incident report, using the false incident report to hold a special meeting to remove her from council, entering an unlawful executive session, demanding an apology, resignation, or discipline, and turning over the incident to the ethics commission.

Baccus says in the lawsuit that the false statements were used to create an online petition for McMaster to remove her from city council. As of Jan. 22, the petition has more than 900 signatures, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also mentions comments left by city residents on a March 2 live stream mentioning “racist Baccus” and “so the city manager hasn’t had the racist investigated and referred to the SC Governor for removal yet?”

Baccus is seeking an unspecified amount of damages. A jury trial was demanded.

Boyd told News13 he has no comment on the lawsuit.

Read the full lawsuit below.

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