TRAVELERS REST, S.C. (WSPA) – The City of Travelers Rest and a former city police officer are facing a federal lawsuit for an alleged sexual assault.
The lawsuit was filed by the Strom Law Firm Tuesday on behalf of a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by former officer Gerard James Hildebrandt.
The lawsuit alleges in July 2022, Hildebrandt was on duty when he was called to a home in Travelers Rest after a woman and her boyfriend got into an argument. When he arrived, Hildebrandt reportedly demanded the woman leave the home and follow him.
The suit states Hildebrandt then led her to a “secluded area of Travelers Rest High School” where he sexually assaulted her and forced her to perform sexual acts on him.
According to the lawsuit, the woman was left with “bruises from her collarbone to her toes” and other injuries, and now “suffers significant mental and emotional trauma, including complete fear of law enforcement officers.”
Travelers Rest Police Chief Benjamin Ford previously told 7NEWS Hildebrandt was fired the same day he learned SLED was investigating Hildebrandt.
However, the woman’s attorneys claim Hildebrandt should have never been hired by the Travelers Rest Police Department.
The lawsuit states Hildebrandt was working for the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office in July 2021, and violated the department’s use of force policy when he allegedly choked an inmate and smashed his face into a glass window. Hildebrandt was reportedly fired by Laurens County Sheriff’s Office a month later, and he was hired by the Travelers Rest Police Department “roughly three months later.”
“If Chief Ford doesn’t think this kind of violence and criminality constitutes a red flag, then what does,” Bakari Sellers, an attorney with Strom Law Firm, said. “That’s exactly the kind of deliberate indifference that leads to a predator like Hildebrandt wearing a badge and a gun so he can take a woman to a dark, secluded area of Travelers Rest High School, rape her and think he’ll get away with it.”
The women’s attorneys said the City of Travelers Rest “has had a history of excessive force complaints and allegations of sexual assaults and Constitutional rights’ violations committed by its police officers, as well as allegations of failing to properly vet new officers, hiring officers it knows or has reason to know are unfit for office, failing to discipline, failing to correct misconduct, and failing to properly train and/or supervise officers, which Defendant Travelers Rest has either ignored or endorsed through a lack of investigation and internal remediation within the Travelers Rest Police Department.”
7NEWS reached out to the Travelers Rest Police Department Wednesday afternoon. Chief Ford said he had “no comment” at that time.