Friend sues fire department, sheriff's office 2 years after man's death

The friend filed a wrongful death suit alleging a firefighter improperly put the 24-year-old in a chokehold after deputies repeatedly Tased him

Lana Ferguson
The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. — Two years after a Beaufort County man died — deputies days earlier had Tased him multiple times and a firefighter had put him in a chokehold — a friend of the man sued the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, the Burton Fire Department and a firefighter.

Angel Barnes, a close friend of 24-year-old Trey Pringle, filed the wrongful death suit in the Beaufort County Common Pleas on Thursday, first reported by FITSNews.

Barnes’ suit accused firefighters and deputies of “failing to act, intervene, or inquire,” about Pringle’s physical status after seeing firefighter Brandon Thomsen put Pringle in a headlock in his home.

The suit also accused the defendants of “using grossly excessive and unnecessary force” against Pringle, and deputies of “failing to restrain or control (Thomsen) from unreasonably employing deadly force.”

The lawsuit said Thomsen specifically violated Pringle’s constitutional rights by “being consciously indifferent to (his) serious medical needs.” The suit said Thomsen’s actions led Pringle to suffer from “pain, fear, torture, degradation, and ultimately death.”

Barnes, who is represented by attorneys Jared Newman and Samuel Svalina, requested a jury trial.

The incident

On Feb. 17, 2018, Pringle’s family called 911 after he’d cut himself smashing a TV.

They called to “prevent him from hurting himself or others,” 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone previously said.

Pringle had a documented history of mental health issues and hospitalizations, according to the lawsuit and previous reporting by The Island Packet.

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, Burton Fire District, and Beaufort County EMS responded to Pringle’s Seabrook home.

When the deputies attempted to restrain Pringle, he “went from calm and relatively compliant to physically aggressive” multiple times, the lawsuit says.

Pringle struck a deputy several times and kicked him as officers tried to handcuff him. He was Tased a total of five times and continued to struggle, so deputies and a firefighter kept him on the ground until other deputies arrived.

The lawsuit alleges that Thomsen, the firefighter, “without authorization and/or training employed a headlock/chokehold” on Pringle and “took him to the floor.” According to the suit, the majority of the Tasers were deployed while Pringle was subdued.

The lawsuit also said Thomsen “references that he ‘put Trey Pringle to sleep.’” Thomsen moved Pringle’s head to the side while he was in the chokehold and placed him in a “half-Nelson,” according to the suit.

Pringle was making “snoring sounds” and appeared to be in a “chicken-wing maneuver,” it said.

When deputies rolled Pringle into a “recovery position,” it appeared that he was not breathing and that he had flatlined, so the restraints were removed and EMS started CPR.

Pringle died three days later in the hospital.

An autopsy conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston determined he’d died during “restraint in a prone position with chest compression,” Stone said.

The lawsuit says Pringle “suffered irreversible anoxic brain injury, which led to his death.”

No criminal charges

Although Pringle’s death was ruled a homicide, which Stone has said is a medical term rather than a legal one, no criminal charges were brought against anyone involved in restraining Pringle.

“I do not believe that the officers or medical personal intended to harm Trey Pringle,” Stone said. “They were trying to protect him and the others around him.”

After the announcement that no one would be charged, Pringle’s mother’s attorney, Shannon M. Chandler, released a statement saying: “While we do not agree with Solicitor Stone’s decision to decline to prosecute the officers involved in Trey’s death, we understand that it is unusual for law enforcement to be prosecuted when a death occurs during the course of officers carrying out their duties.”


©2020 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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