China Grove man suing sheriff, county claiming false arrest
By Shavonne Potts
A China Grove man is suing the county, Sheriff George Wilhelm and three others, claiming he was wrongfully arrested as a result of a foreclosure bid for property.
In the suit, filed June 16, Charles Ritchie says he was falsely arrested and detained a year ago with “no basis in fact or law to do so.”
He was arrested June 19, 2008, and charged with attempting to obtain property by false pretenses. Ritchie said Sgt. Sharon Hovis, Deputies D. A. Whitley and C.J. Cauble falsely arrested him.
In January 2008, Ritchie signed the name of his nephew, David Ritchie, to a notice of upset bid on property up for sale, an arrest warrant said.
The suit said Charles Ritchie was bidding on property at 2240 Ritchie Road on behalf of his nephew who was not able to be at the sale because of work.
Contrary to the arrest warrant, Charles Ritchie said he signed his own name.
The bid sheet, which was filed with the Rowan County Clerk of Court, shows David Ritchie, 590 Saw Road, under the heading name and address of the upset bidder. The address belongs to Charles Ritchie. Charles indicated he put his own address because he could not remember his nephew’s address at the time.
Charles Ritchie also wrote his own telephone number on the bid sheet. He then signed his own name to the bid sheet.
Afterward, Charles Ritchie engaged in a battle of competing upset bids, where one person would increase the upset bid by $750 during the bid period.
Charles Ritchie made an upset bid on behalf of his nephew, David. During this time, the property fell into foreclosure and was sold. The remaining balance on the property was $10,250 on the execution sale bid, or a sheriff’s sale.
Deputies Whitley and Cauble went to David Ritchie’s home to collect.
Charles Ritchie told them he believed since the property was foreclosed on, the sheriff’s sale was no longer in effect.
Charles Ritchie contacted Concord lawyer Jason Price, a real estate attorney, who then called the sheriff’s office, where he spoke with Hovis.
The suit said Hovis told Price that Charles Ritchie was hindering the sheriff’s office’s ability to sell the property and he would be charged with a criminal offense.
Price said a criminal charge was “absurd.” Hovis indicated she needed to discuss the charge with others. An hour later, she informed Price that Charles Ritchie was being charged with attempting to obtain property by false pretenses because he signed his nephew’s name on the bid sheet.
Price said the only mistake Charles Ritchie made was he failed to file the agent block on the bid sheet, which was not a criminal offense.
Price further said people use agents to bid at public auctions all the time and it was allowed by the law.
On June 19, 2008, Price accompanied Charles Ritchie, who surrendered himself to the sheriff’s office.
He was released later on a $1,500 bond.
A probable cause hearing was held before Rowan District Court Judge Charlie Brown on September 3, 2008. At the hearing, the sheriff’s office said they thought the signature on the bid sheet was that of David Ritchie.
The suit said the sheriff’s office admitted at that hearing they had never taken criminal action related to a public sale bid before.
Judge Brown dismissed the felony charge for lack of probable cause.
Charles Ritchie contends that his civil rights were violated, he was falsely imprisoned and arrested, involved in malicious prosecution. He also contends the officers used the legal process of the arrest warrant for the, “ulterior purpose of coercing (Ritchie) to pay the bid price for the execution sale of 2240 Ritchie Road.” Also, that the deputies were negligent because they breached a “standard of ordinary care” by obtaining an arrest warrant.
The suit says Hovis is the immediate supervisor of Whitley and Cauble and therefore responsible for the training, implementing policies and procedures. Also, that Wilhelm is responsible for the training and supervision of Hovis, Whitley and Cauble.
The suit says Rowan County is also responsible because it employs all of the parties.
Wilhelm did not return repeated phone calls from the Post. Templeton & Raynor, which represents Wilhelm, the county, Hovis, Whitley and Cauble, did not respond to a reporter’s message by late Tuesday evening.
Jim DeMay, an attorney with Ferguson, Scarbrough, Hayes, Hawkins & DeMay, said Ritchie was unfairly treated and is simply standing up for his rights.
“We want to make sure there is some sort of checks and balances. The sheriff’s office cannot arrest people for a crime that isn’t a crime,” he said.
On July 10, Kenneth Raynor, on behalf of the county, Wilhelm, Hovis, Whitley and Cauble, filed a request for an extension. The extension means they’ve asked for more time to respond to Ritchie’s complaint, which is allowable by law.
The answer was due July 15. They’ve asked for 20 more days to “properly prepare an answer” to the complaint. On Tuesday, the court granted the continuance with the answer due Aug. 4.
DeMay said they will wait and see what the county’s position is.