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BOLIVIA—A Brunswick County couple and an Ocean Isle Beach pawnshop have filed a lawsuit against the Brunswick County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices.
The lawsuit was filed March 28 at the Brunswick County Courthouse by Andrew and Christine Gentile and Redgator Pawn Shop against the sheriff’s office, Sheriff John Ingram, detectives Ryan Newman and Michael Murray, the district attorney’s office, assistant district attorney Meredith Everhart, Brunswick County and Western Surety Co.
The Gentiles are represented by attorney James E. Hairston Jr. of Raleigh.
The 48-page lawsuit claims the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights, including personal security and freedom from unlawful searches and seizures.
The document states Andrew Gentile is a former assistant police chief for the town of Ocean Isle Beach. Following his retirement from that position in 2008, he began work as a licensed private investigator with a company he founded, Coastal Carolina Private Investigative Services.
In October 2008, the suit states, Gentile was hired by attorney Richard Hollar to investigate charges against Scott Forbes regarding alleged sexual activity with a female minor in a group home run by Forbes.
Gentile’s investigation found a female minor had told several other girls she was “ ‘going to get out of there’ by making accusations against Forbes,” according to the suit.
The document says Gentile attempted to report his findings to sheriff’s office Detective Donna Simpson “but she was unwilling to discuss the matter or any other aspect of the investigation. [She] did not investigate the findings nor did she report the criminal activity to appropriate authorities.”
Charges against Forbes were ultimately dismissed in a case assigned to Everhart.
Gentile claims he was subsequently “harassed and impeded” by Everhart during his investigations. She accused him of misrepresenting himself on two separate occasions in 2009 and 2010 and of trespassing in 2010, according to the suit.
“Mr. Gentile has worked on dozens of cases as a private investigator and, upon information and belief, ADA Everhart was the only employee of the [district attorney’s office] to ever accuse Mr. Gentile of any type of misconduct during his investigations,” the suit reads.
The lawsuit also claims District Attorney Jon David, Everhart, investigator David Crocker and Simpson “colluded to plant” a letter in Gentile’s personnel file between the time it was subpoenaed and the time it was provided to Hollar and Gentile in anticipation of a trial.
“Upon information and belief, the letter was planted in a malicious attempt by both the [district attorney’s] and [sheriff’s offices] to discredit Mr. Gentile in all future investigative matters and pending testimony, resulting in potentially permanent damage to his credibility and reputation,” the document reads.
It also claims that on or about Feb. 21, 2012, Gentile was stopped by deputy Bonnie Keyes at the entrance to the Brunswick County Courthouse, “claiming that it had been ordered from the top that all private investigators be searched prior to coming into the courthouse. Mr. Gentile objected to the search, however, he and his effects, including the thousands of documents, exhibits and pieces of evidence prepared” for the trial “were searched thoroughly.”
That same day, the suit alleges Deputy Mike Speck ordered Gentile “to move his ‘damn car’ from a courthouse parking lot without explanation.”
The suit alleges Gentile was searched and harassed by deputies for the next two days at the courthouse entrance.
On Feb. 23, 2012, Hollar requested an in-chambers conference with Judge Ola M. Lewis and Everhart “to address the unreasonable searches, seizures, and harassment that Mr. Gentile had faced over the previous four days,” according to the suit.
Following the meeting, Gentile “was not searched, seized, or harassed upon entering the Brunswick County Courthouse.”
On May 26, 2012, the suit states Gentile was issued a citation at a checkpoint by “Deputy Rogers” for failure of a passenger to wear a seat belt in Gentile’s work van. On Nov. 24, 2012, it states Rogers stopped Gentile again at the Chubby Buddha, a local bar, claiming Gentile had “‘similar taillights’ to a car that allegedly turned around to avoid a checkpoint.”
Another deputy arrived at the scene and Gentile was accused of drinking, according to the suit. He “reluctantly submitted” to a portable breath test. Results were not provided to him, but he was released that evening “without further action or investigation.”
The lawsuit also outlines details related to the Jan. 8, 2013, arrest of Andrew Gentile at his wife’s pawnshop, The Redgator, on charges of receiving stolen goods.
It claims officers then taped off the entire building and required Christine Gentile to remain on the premises, where she was “repeatedly subjected to questions and demands to produce information related to items in The Redgator” without pause for approximately eight hours.
“At no time during the search did the officers inform Mrs. Gentile that she was under arrest or being detained, however, Mrs. Gentile was not permitted to leave.”
At one point, “she was forced to request permission to use the restroom in her own store,” the lawsuit states.
The suit alleges “Mrs. Gentile was never offered anything to eat or drink despite the fact that several officers left and returned with food and drinks, consuming the same in The Redgator in front of Mrs. Gentile.”
It also claims officers confiscated several items from the pawnshop, including a modified AR-15 rifle that had been brought there the day before to be sold on consignment; a .38-caliber revolver previously sold to The Redgator; and “all of the books required to be kept by the Division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)”; and a BB gun.
Since Andrew Gentile’s arrest and his wife’s detainment, the suit claims “each has suffered considerable mental, emotional and physical distress.”
It also states Andrew Gentile continues to have problems with a wrist that was injured and later diagnosed as sprained by too-tight handcuffs during his arrest and transfer to the Brunswick County Detention Center.
It states detectives Murray and Newman “knowingly and intentionally” provided “inaccurate and misleading testimony” to secure a search warrant for The Redgator and an arrest warrant for Andrew Gentile.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $10,000 on each of seven counts outlined in the complaint.
Capt. Mose Highsmith, attorney for the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday since the matter is in litigation, there isn’t much he can say in the way of a comment.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.