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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A sheriff's deputy in South Carolina is suing a police association that offered legal defense benefits for law officers but refused to help a former North Charleston police officer charged with killing an unarmed black man.
The lawsuit seeks the return of the $23.50 monthly dues that some 40,000 officers paid to the Southern States Police Benevolent Association. It also seeks an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed last week in state court in Charleston by attorneys for Lt. Donald Stanley of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.
It doesn't name Michael Slager, charged with murder in the April 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott. Slager says he is innocent.
The former officer filed a separate lawsuit against the association last year after it refused to assist him. It's pending in federal court.
Charleston attorney Ronnie Richter said in a telephone interview that "many law enforcement officers were not happy with the PBA's decision not to afford coverage to Michael Slager."
Stanley's lawsuit argues the association became an insurer by taking in the monthly payments and offering legal support, but got around insurance regulations by calling the support a "member benefit." The suit alleges breach of contract, fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation.
Jack Roberts, the association's chief operating officer said in a statement that he could not comment on the pending litigation nor any other allegations "based upon our commitment to our members' privacy. We have hired legal counsel to appear and defend us in the court system."
He also said, "We have provided services to law enforcement officers for nearly 30 years, and we continue to stand behind our members."
The group's website says it is funded by membership dues and contributions and provides legal, disciplinary and other representation to more than 40,000 law enforcement officers.
Slager's lawsuit says the association wrote him and said the policy had an exclusion clause and benefits would not be paid because the association had determined Slager "committed an intentional, deliberate and/or illegal act either civilly or criminally."
Richter said Stanley is a deputy sheriff and has been "a member in good standing" of the police association for 21 years. He declined to provide other details about the deputy.
Richter said Stanley's lawsuit argues the association "is not properly authorized to sell its product" as an insurer in any of the states where it transacts its business, citing Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The short headline in this story has been corrected to say the lawsuit demands the return of dues, instead of saying the police association refused legal help to an officer.
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