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71-year-old Black man sues after South Carolina police allegedly held him naked at gunpoint

A 71-year-old Black man has sued a South Carolina city after he says he feared for his life in a 2019 incident in which a police officer held the man outside naked and at gunpoint while other officers searched through his home without a warrant.  

According to the legal complaint filed by attorneys Justin Bamberg and Julie Beeks on Monday, Jethro DeVane says he was asleep at home in the city of Rock Hill, S.C., on the evening of June 3, 2019, when he woke up to police shining lights inside his window. 

When DeVane looked out his front door to see what was going on, he said officers then pointed a gun at him and forced him outside. 

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Body camera footage from the incident obtained by The Hill shows officer Vincent Mentesana cursing at DeVane and telling him not to close the door.

Mentesana orders DeVane to stand outside his home naked at 4 a.m., facing the wall, according to the footage released Tuesday following a public records request by DeVane's legal team.

After DeVane asks the officer what was going on, Mentesana can be heard saying, “I don’t want to talk to you.”

The lawsuit claims that the officer held DeVane at gunpoint for 90 seconds while other officers searched through the home. 

“I did what the man said. He had the weapon. He could have took my life in a minute,” DeVane said at a news conference Tuesday.

In a statement released Monday, the Rock Hill Police Department said officers had been searching for four teens suspected of breaking into a nearby car. The officers then went up to DeVane’s home thinking it was an abandoned residence and that the young people could have been hiding inside. 

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The department added that DeVane was "detained by officers for safety" and that once officers "conducted a protective sweep of the residence" and "were able to verify" his identity, they left the scene.

However, DeVane’s lawyers argue that the officers carried out an illegal search and humiliated the man by holding him naked outside. 

"He is pulled out of this house at 71 years old, completely naked," Bamberg said during Tuesday’s press conference. "Is this how we want our law enforcement officers policing neighborhoods? No, it's not."

“Why do we have to be here advocating for human decency and human dignity? It is utterly ridiculous and it is unacceptable,” he added. “And it needs to stop before there is a death. God forbid, if Mr. DeVane had panicked like a lot of people would and tried to close that door.” 

Bamberg, a Democrat serving as a member of South Carolina's state House, told The Hill on Wednesday that it is common practice in the Palmetto State for people to carry guns with them for safety, adding that if DeVane was armed, he believes the elderly man "would have died." 

The attorney, who was picked to serve on the criminal justice reform unity task force developed by then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenCensus results show White House doubling down on failure Poll: Americans back new spending, tax hikes on wealthy, but remain wary of economic impact True immigration reform requires compromise from both sides of the aisle MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPBS White House reporter Yamiche Alcindor to moderate 'Washington Week' Pressure builds for Biden to back vaccine patent waivers Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms MORE (I-Vt.) earlier this year, added that DeVane's case should serve as a wake-up call for agencies across the country to implement policing changes. 

"I come from a family of law enforcement," Bamberg told The Hill. "I support them. We need them. But what we're not going to stand for is law enforcement trampling on the rights of American citizens." 

When contacted by The Hill on Wednesday, Rock Hill Police spokesman Lt. Michael Chavis said the department does not comment on pending litigation. 

The city’s law firm told the Associated Press Monday that Mentesana had requested a transfer from the police department to Rock Hill’s utility department in February. 

Updated 6:00 p.m.