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"Red Flag" alleged by LCSO's firing

“This isn’t just a bad apple. It’s a bad tree and this is our chance to do something about it.”


Woman Sexually Assaulted by Upstate Police Officer Sues Officer, arrested on a SLED charge, and the City of Travelers Rest July 25, 2023

Travelers Rest, SC - Attorneys for the Upstate woman sexually assaulted by Travelers Rest police officer Gerard James Hildebrandt on the campus of Travelers Rest High School have filed a federal lawsuit against Hildebrandt and the City of Travelers Rest revealing not only the details of the assault, but the repeated failures at the Travelers Rest Police Department (TRPD) that allowed it happen.

According to the lawsuit, the City of Travelers Rest has created an environment within its police department where excessive force and officer misconduct is permissive if not outright encouraged. In fact, the lawsuit points to Travelers Rest Police Chief Ben Ford saying that there were no “red flags” in Defendant Hildebrandt’s file when he was hired by TRPD.

Only three months prior, however, Hildebrandt had been fired from the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office after he used a banned chokehold on a detainee and carried him to the county jail’s booking area. Once in the booking area, Hildebrandt continued to choke the detainee and smashed his face into the booking area’s glass window.

“If Chief Ford doesn’t think this kind of violence and criminality constitutes a red flag, then what does,” said Bakari Sellers, an attorney with Strom Law Firm representing the sexual assault survivor. “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.”

To that end, the lawsuit details TRPD’s “history of excessive force complaints and allegations of sexual assaults and Constitutional rights’ violations committed by its police officers” including a 2019 incident where TRPD Officer Shawn Jenkins threatened a minor involved in a Boy Scouts Post 466 mentoring program with his department-issued taser, forced him to strip and sexually assaulted him.

“The similarities between these two sexual assaults are deeply disturbing,” says Sellers. “This isn’t just a bad apple. It’s a bad tree and this is our chance to do something about it.”

Hildebrandt was arrested in April and charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct – Third Degree and Misconduct in Office following an investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Copy of the filed lawsuit here.


Attorneys for Woman Raped by Cheerleading Coach Speak Out

Cheerleading coach was arraigned today for raping a 17-year-old athlete at her cheerleading gymJuly 26, 2023

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TN - Attorneys for the woman raped as a minor by Premier Athletics cheerleading coach James Henry So are speaking out today following So’s arraignment in Williamson County Circuit Court on charges of Aggravated Rape and multiple counts of Rape, Statutory Rape and Sexual Battery.

The rape survivor is represented by attorneys from the Strom Law Firm including Alexandra Benevento, Bakari Sellers and Jessica Fickling  as well as Tennessee State Rep. John Ray Clemmons.

“We want to thank the Franklin Police Department and the Williamson County District Attorney for their diligence in pursuing justice for our client, who was violently assaulted by her cheer coach in a place where she should have been safe,” said Benevento. “Our client’s bravery in coming forward after such a horrific violation of her body speaks to her amazing strength. While this process can never truly remedy the irreparable harm our client has suffered, these charges are a step in the right direction.”

In addition to this rape survivor, Strom Law Firm attorneys Benevento, Sellers and Fickling represent nearly two dozen young athletes who faced similar sexual assaults at competitive cheerleading gyms across America, including two young men who were sexually assaulted by Premier Athletics coach Dominick Frizzell in Knoxville. Strom Law Firm attorneys and Tennessee State Rep. John Ray Clemmons filed a federal lawsuit in that case back in September of 2022.

Copy of the federal lawsuit filed in September against Premier Athletics here.


South Carolina Man Charged with Sex Trafficking of Four Victims, including a Minor

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA — A federal grand jury in Florence returned an indictment charging a South Carolina man with three counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, one count of sex trafficking of a minor, two counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering and one count of obstructing a sex trafficking investigation.

According to the indictment, between August 2019 and August 2020, Aaron T. Simmons, 26, of Greenville, used force, threats of force and coercion to compel three adult women to engage in commercial sex. The indictment also charges Simmons with sex trafficking of a minor victim. 

Simmons will make his initial court appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the District of South Carolina. It is initially scheduled for July 28. If convicted of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, Simmons faces a minimum penalty of 15 years in prison and up to life in prison. If convicted of sex trafficking of a minor, Simmons faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison and up to life imprisonment. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs for the District of South Carolina and Special Agent in Charge Steven J. Jensen of the FBI Columbia Field Office made the announcement.

The Greenville Police Department and the FBI Greenville Field Office investigated the case. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Fisher Sherard for the District of South Carolina and Trial Attorney Francisco Zornosa of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit are prosecuting the case.

The FBI is asking anyone with information about Aaron Simmons to contact the FBI Columbia Field Office at (803) 551-4200. If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Indictment here.