Judge: Myrtle Beach might have known of no-knock policy that left man shot, paralyzed

A jury could find that Myrtle Beach knew of the Drug Enforcement Unit’s widespread policy of entering residences without knocking, a federal judge ruled.

Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. ruled this week on recommendations from a magistrate judge in the ongoing federal case over the shooting of Julian Betton.

Betton was shot nine times by agents with the 15th Drug Enforcement Unit in 2015 during a drug raid. DEU agents fired nearly 30 shots and left Betton as a paraplegic.

The ruling only means that a jury could side with Betton over the alleged misconduct, not necessarily that the judge agrees. The ruling supports recommendations by a magistrate judge earlier this summer. That magistrate’s report found DEU officers often didn’t knock and announce themselves before entering residences, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Betton had surveillance equipment on the front porch that showed officers rushing up to the house and using a battering ram to enter the apartment. There is no audio in the video, but officers do not appear to knock and announce their presence before waiting and entering.

He filed a civil suit against Myrtle Beach and several members of the DEU. Earlier this year some of the individual defendants settled with Betton for $2.75 million.

Myrtle Beach sought a ruling in its favor and argued it had no operational control over the DEU. The city contended it was only one of dozens of agencies from the 15th Judicial Circuit that are part of the DEU. Former Police Chief Warren Gall served on the DUE board but did not act in the decision making of the unit, according to the city’s filing.

Quattlebaum’s recent ruling rejected those arguments by the city.

“The Magistrate Judge concluded that a reasonable jury could find that both Myrtle Beach and Chief Gall had actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged practice or custom of executing standard search warrants without first knocking and announcing,” Quattlebaum’s ruling reads.

He further added a jury could determine that Myrtle Beach’s failure to address or correct the problem showed deliberate indifference.

“The court finds as a matter of law that Myrtle Beach and Chief Gall had final policy making authority over the DEU,” Quattlebaum ruled.

DEU officer David Belue is also a remaining defendant in the case and sought a ruling in his favor. He was the first officer at Betton’s door and argued officers believed that Betton was a fugitive from Ohio. He openly displayed and had easy access to guns, Belue said, and drew a weapon in the officers’ presence.

Quattlebaum ruled in favor of Belue as it related to his “tactical excessive force violations,” but denied an effort to toss other claims against the officer.

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News