Thursday, October 27, 2016

Helicopter pilots file suit against Florence County sheriff's office

Dusan Fridl (center) and Hemming Hemmingsen (left) on the first day of trial January 25, 2016. The two were charged with unlawfully flying a helicopter allegedly owned by the Florence County Sheriff's Department. They were cleared of these charges. 

FLORENCE, SC  --   The two pilots previously indicted and cleared of felony charges have filed a lawsuit against the Florence County Sheriff’s Office.

Dusan Fridl and Hemming Hemmingsen have accused the sheriff’s office of defamation, civil conspiracy, abuse of process, malicious prosecution and false arrest and imprisonment and are seeking compensatory damages.

Maj. Mike Nunn of the Florence County Sheriff’s Office said the matter had been forwarded to the department’s attorneys but declined to comment further.

“We do not comment on pending litigation,” Nunn said.

Fridl and Hemmingsen were arrested and charged with unlawful entry of an aircraft by the Florence County Sheriff’s Office after flying the Bell OH58A helicopter in April 2015.

The pilots took the helicopter for a preventative maintenance flight on April 6, prior to it being transferred into the possession of the sheriff’s office from Lake City. The sheriff’s office picked up the helicopter the following day and both Fridl and Hemmingsen were arrested shortly afterward.

The sheriff’s office claimed it had ownership of the helicopter at the time of the flight and had not given Fridl or Hemmingsen permission to fly the aircraft.

Following a three-day trial in Florence County General Session Court, the jury rendered acquitted both pilots.

In the 10-month period between their arrest and their acquittal, the pilots say, the sheriff’s office committed multiple libelous acts and Fridl and Hemmingsen “have suffered actual and consequential damages.”

According to the complaint filed by the pilots’ attorney, Patrick McLaughlin, the sheriff’s office arrested and imprisoned the pilots “without probable cause” and on warrants that falsely claimed the sheriff’s office owned the aircraft on April 6. The suit also claims the sheriff’s office attempted “to use the threat of criminal prosecution and conviction to secure a release/waiver of civil liability.”

The suit claims that on or about Sept. 28, offers were made to Fridl and Hemmingsen that their charges would be dismissed if “they would agree to a resolution which would shield FCSO from any civil liability” and state there was a probable cause for their arrest. Fridl and Hemmingsen refused those offers.

The suit says the sheriff’s office made false and defamatory statements against the pilots “accusing them of a crime and, inherently, of being unfit in their business or profession.”

According to the lawsuit, the case is subject to mediation.

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