July 7, 2008
CHARLES TOWN — A Charles Town man has filed a civil action lawsuit against two area law enforcement officers and Wal-Mart after he said he was wrongly accused child pornography after attempting to develop nude photographs at a store in Winchester last year.
In a complaint filed last month in Jefferson County Circuit Court against Jefferson County Detective Cpl. Tracy L. Edwards and Deputy P.G. Smith along with Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Charles Town resident Sam Bellotte alleges store personnel subjected him to emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation and injury to his reputation after they claimed photographs he sought to develop there contained sexually explicit images of children, and then contacted law enforcement officers who the next day conducted a search of his house with a S.W.A.T. team and state and federal officers. Bellotte said during the search, which was conducted in front of his wife and children, Edwards and Smith called him a “sick person” and a “child pornographer.”
Bellotte, who acknowledged to store employees the pictures were nude photographs, said store officials invaded his privacy after they examined the pictures and failed to destroy them after he surrendered the photos to them to be shredded.
According to the complaint, on May 30, 2007, Bellotte used a self-service photo maker in a Wal-Mart store in Winchester to print off digital photographs, and when asked if any of the photos contained nudity, he said there were nude photos and then agreed with Wal-Mart personnel that the photos would be shredded without being reviewed.
Bellotte claims Wal-Mart personnel looked at the pictures while they were being shredded, searched for Bellotte’s debit and credit card information in their register and called police.
“Sam and his family both went through a horrifying event that was uncalled for,” said Bellotte’s attorney Thomas E. Carroll, of Monticello, Ky. “The police raid was conducted in the middle of the night after the family had gone to bed. No justification for that, and it all started when Wal-Mart decided to basically invade his privacy.”
Carroll said Bellotte was never arrested.
According to the complaint, on June 2, 2007, Edwards was quoted in The Journal as saying Bellotte was likely to be questioned and if pornography was found, arrested immediately. The article did not mention Bellotte by name but did say a warrant was served at his residence, identifying him, the suit says.
Bellotte seeks to recover compensatory and punitive damages as the result of their actions.
Carroll confirmed that no court date has been set yet. He said he would like to see Bellotte and his family “rewarded a fair and reasonable compensation for all they’ve gone through.”
Carroll also said that there has been a second lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Martinsburg, in which Bellotte’s wife and children are the plaintiffs, claiming civil rights violations during the police raid.
Edwards and Smith, as well as their attorney, Lucien Lewin of Steptoe and Johnson, PLLC, were unwilling to comment.
Wal-Mart attorneys did not return phone calls.
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