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Former Columbia County school employee alleges false arrest in lawsuit against sheriff's deputies

Posted: January 17, 2016 - 12:02am

A former hearing officer for the Colum­bia County school system has filed a lawsuit against two sheriff’s deputies, alleging wrongful arrest and imprisonment, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

John Leroy Padgett Jr. resigned as student discipline hearing officer for the school system in Augusta 2014 after his arrest on a misdemeanor charge of failure to report suspected child abuse.

Padgett’s lawsuit, filed in Columbia County Superior Court, alleges the two deputies involved in his arrest, Brian C. Jones and Thomas R. Digsby, obtained a warrant under false pretenses to charge him with a crime that had underlying circumstances that made the charge inappropriate and had long passed the statute of limitations.

Jones is an investigator for the sheriff’s office and Digsby is a staff sergeant, according to sheriff’s Capt. Andy Shedd. Shedd said Wednesday that neither the officers nor the department could comment on the case because of the pending litigation.

The lawsuit also names “each and every individual, county department, county employee” and any others that might be liable in the case. The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from the defendants.

According to the lawsuit, the misdemeanor charge against Padgett had to do with allegations made in August 2014 by his adoptive daughter, who had just turned 18. Padgett’s daughter, who left the Padgett residence and stated she would not return, told deputies that she had been sexually abused for years by him and one of his sons. Deputies investigated her claims, but no charges were ever filed.

During the investigation, however, Padgett volunteered that his daughter had become pregnant at age 15 and had an abortion. Padgett also said at the time the girl had claimed his son was the child’s father.

According to the lawsuit, Padgett doubted her claims because of her “history, mental capacities, disorders and behavior problems.” Padgett and his wife had adopted the girl at age 10 “with the knowledge that she had been physically, emotionally and sexually abused” since she was 3 years old, the lawsuit states.

After being interviewed by deputies on Aug. 21, 2014, Padgett was arrested and placed in a holding cell “despite the fact that no warrant had been obtained for his arrest,” the lawsuit states. Although Padgett in his capacity as a school hearing officer was required to report incidents of suspected child abuse, the lawsuit states that he became aware of the situation with his daughter “not in the capacity as a school employee or hearing officer, but in his capacity as a father,” a circumstance in which the law did not apply.

Padgett was released from custody the same day and rearrested Aug. 22, 2014, after Jones applied for a warrant from Superior Court Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. The lawsuit claims Jones “falsely asserted” on his application that the crime occurred Aug. 9, 2014, but knew the events the charge was based on – related to Padgett’s daughter’s pregnancy – had occurred in June 2012.

The lawsuit claims both Jones and Digsby were aware that the misdemeanor could not be prosecuted “more than two years after the commission of the events that allegedly constituted a crime.”

After Padgett was released on bond in August 2014, no additional action was taken.

The lawsuit states it was never presented to a grand jury or submitted as an accusation for trial. The charge was dismissed in April by Augusta District Attor­ney Ashley Wright.

“Although there appears to be probable cause for the issuance of the warrant, there does not appear to be sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Wright’s April 22 order states.

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