Crime & Courts

Rock Hill man sues police after spending month in jail for robbery he didn’t commit

Jason Thatcher with family and friends after being released from jail in 2013. Police dropped the charges, saying he didn’t rob the Rock Hill CVS.
Jason Thatcher with family and friends after being released from jail in 2013. Police dropped the charges, saying he didn’t rob the Rock Hill CVS. adouglas@heraldonline.com

The Rock Hill man wrongfully accused of a daytime armed robbery more than two years ago has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging malicious prosecution, false arrest and negligence by a Rock Hill Police detective.

Jason Thatcher – the man who spent 29 days in jail for a crime Rock Hill Police later said he did not commit – sued the city in July.

Police have said they had probable cause to issue warrants for Thatcher’s arrest because people who knew Thatcher told officers he had robbed the pharmacy.

Thatcher’s attorney, Chris Mills of Columbia, accuses the Rock Hill Police Department of not properly looking into the alibi Thatcher gave authorities when he turned himself in on July 4, 2013.

Lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for “damages.”

Before his arrest, Rock Hill Police released a photo of Thatcher, naming him as the suspect who robbed, at gunpoint, a local CVS store for drugs. Thatcher told officers he was working in Darlington at the time of the robbery. He contacted authorities after learning he was wanted in a crime.

A judge set Thatcher’s bond at $500,000 after he was charged with armed robbery, six counts of drug law violations, pointing and presenting a firearm, and possession of a firearm during a violent crime – all of which were later thrown out.

Mills claims Rock Hill Police arrested Thatcher without probable cause. He alleges the department did not disclose its evidence to support the felony criminal charges until three weeks after Thatcher’s arrest. His defense attorney provided evidence supporting Thatcher’s alibi. Prosecutors then dropped the charges and release Thatcher from jail.

Thatcher’s family said on the night of his release his time in jail nearly cost Thatcher his job and affected his two young children.

Two weeks later, North Carolina authorities arrested a different man on charges stemming from a string of drug store robberies in North Carolina and South Carolina. Mills says in the lawsuit that man later confessed to robbing the Rock Hill CVS store, located near Winthrop University on Cherry Road.

In the lawsuit, Mills said Rock Hill Police Investigator Ryan Thomas “erroneously concluded” that pictures of Thatcher – available on Facebook and from the state Department of Motor Vehicles – matched the man captured in video surveillance footage from the CVS store.

According to the lawsuit, Rock Hill Police used a K-9 dog tracking unit to follow a scent from the CVS to a nearby home on Woodland Drive.

Mills alleges the K-9 dog used is not a certified police tracking dog. He said in the lawsuit the scent the dog tracked that day belonged to a man who lives in the Woodland Drive home who had returned from a restaurant near CVS.

That man allowed police to search his home. He and two other men in the home told officers Thatcher had not visited the residence that day, nor had any interaction with them, according to the lawsuit. One of the men was then arrested on unrelated outstanding drug charges.

In jail, Thomas questioned that man about the robbery, according to the lawsuit. Mills alleges the investigator then told the man he would charge him as an accomplice to the robbery unless he had evidence “that points away from him.”

Mills said Thomas showed the man a photo from the surveillance video during the robbery and said Thatcher’s first and last name, suggesting him as a suspect, according to the lawsuit. The man then told police, according to the lawsuit, that he “thinks” it might be Thatcher.

Thatcher’s attorney said in the lawsuit the man who robbed the store did not have a tattoo on his neck. Thatcher has a large tattoo on his neck. He also states no witness to the robbery picked Thatcher from a photo line-up of suspects.

Mills said his client has experienced financial and emotional damage after being wrongfully accused and arrested. He is seeking unspecified compensation for damages in his lawsuit.

Mills and David Morrison of Columbia, the attorney for the city and police department, said in a statement to The Herald they “intend to cooperatively exchange information and to follow discovery through court processes.” Because litigation is pending, neither attorney plans to comment publicly about the case.

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