By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
The town of Sullivan’s Island is now dealing with another lawsuit involving alleged inappropriate behavior by its employees. In a suit filed June 17 in the Court of Common Pleas for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, former Sullivan’s Island Police Officer Amanda Capone claimed that former Deputy Town Administrator Jason Blanton often asked her about the specifics of Capone’s sex life with her wife. Blanton said he wanted to watch Capone and another female patrol officer make out and even offered to help when the lesbian couple was considering having a child together through intrauterine insemination. In April 2021, the suit alleged, when Blanton found out the procedure would cost Capone approximately $15,000, “Blanton responded with a smile and a wink, saying he could inseminate Capone’s wife for free.”
According to Capone, Blanton’s words and actions made her feel “extremely uncomfortable and preyed upon while working for the town.” The suit noted that on July 20, 2021, City Administrator Andy Benke informed Capone that the Town Council had voted to suspend Blanton for three days, demote him and cut his pay.
However, according to Benke, Council members talked about Blanton’s punishment in executive session at their Aug. 17, 2021 meeting. According to the lawsuit, Benke mentioned to Capone that he did not tell Council members about Blanton’s sexual comments because he thought doing so might violate her HIPAA rights. Instead, Benke said that an anonymous employee reported that Blanton had made “inappropriate comments.”
Capone resigned from the Sullivan’s Island Police Department on Oct. 18, 2021. Blanton is now the town’s comptroller. Both Mayor Pat O’Neil and Benke said they couldn’t comment on pending litigation, while Blanton did not respond to an email from The Island Eye News. As a code enforcement officer beginning in January 2019, Capone worked under Blanton’s supervision. She later graduated from the Police Academy and became a certified officer. The lawsuit maintained that starting during the summer of 2020, Blanton would often veer from work-related conversations to inquire about how Capone and her wife have sex. These conversations, which often occurred in meetings with Griffin and other employees, “led her to feeling significantly uncomfortable working for the town, particularly in reporting to Blanton.”
Capone discussed the situation with Griffin, the lawsuit said. According to the lawsuit, in the fall of 2020, Blanton called Capone approximately 10 times a day to try to get her to tell Benke about Griffin’s alleged sexual harassment activities. Blanton promised to relocate her to Town Hall if she would testify against the police chief, the lawsuit claimed, adding that “this continual harassment forced Capone to call in sick one day because she was throwing up the previous night as a result of the stress caused by Blanton.”
During the fall and winter of 2020 and 2021, Capone said she tried unsuccessfully to distance herself from Blanton, but he continued to text her. The following spring, when her paycheck was smaller than expected, Blanton told her it was because she took a sick day for a procedure related to intrauterine insemination without approval. She insisted that Griffin had OK’d the day off and the three of them held a meeting where Griffin and Blanton argued over the issue. The end result was that Capone was paid for the day she was not on the job. Not long after, Capone tried to file a formal complaint against Blanton, but Benke apparently told her an official complaint would have to go through another employee, who would be likely to give Blanton a heads up about it. Meanwhile, Griffin reminded Benke that Blanton, in a different but somewhat related situation, “sent his staff a group text message asking if they wanted him to send a mold of his penis so they would not miss him while he was out of the office,” the lawsuit alleged. The town’s investigation dragged on and in July 2021, Capone learned that Benke and O’Neil met with Blanton, who admitted making the comments about insemination “and other comments that were sexual in nature,” according to the lawsuit. A few days later, Capone told the mayor and the town administrator that she could no longer work with Blanton.
That same month, Capone called in sick for an entire week because she feared for her safety. With no sick leave remaining, Capone got her therapist to write a formal doctor’s note so she would be paid for additional time off. The day after the note was sent to the town, Capone was informed that she was being put on administrative leave until further notice, according to the lawsuit. She resigned two-and-ahalf months later. The lawsuit stated: “Blanton’s conduct was so extreme and outrageous that it exceeded all possible bounds of decency and can be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in any civilized community.
Capone suffered severe emotional distress and physical distress as a direct result of Blanton’s actions of repeated sexual harassment, misconduct and discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation against Capone.”
Capone’s attorney, Clayton B. McCullough of Mount Pleasant, is asking for actual, special, consequential and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs. Council members were said to have also discussed the lawsuit filed against the town and Police Chief Chris Griffin in executive session during their June 21 meeting. According to that suit, Griffin sent sexually explicit text messages to two women at a South Carolina Police Chiefs Association Annual Leadership Conference in Myrtle Beach in November 2019.
The case is scheduled for trial on or after Jan. 15, 2023.