$195,000 settlement reached in civil suit against Sheriff’s Office

Charleston County Sheriff’s Office Detective David Owen was at the West Ashley house on Jan. 26, 2011, where Ronald David Ratliff had been found dead in the attic the previous day. He had shot and wounded his estranged wife, then killed himself. FILE/WADE SPEES/STAFF

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office recently agreed to “a compromise of sorts” by reaching a $195,000 settlement with a woman who contends deputies failed to protect her from a man who gunned down her mother and shot her in the neck before turning the gun on himself.

A civil lawsuit filed in September 2012 by Melissity Q. Hayes alleged the Sheriff’s Office was partly to blame for the violence, as she was under its protective custody when she was shot by Ronald David Ratliff, her estranged husband.

“It’s important to remember that Ronald Ratliff shot Melissity, shot her mother and committed suicide. He is fundamentally responsible for what occurred,” Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said last week. “Our position was that there was a point at which we felt it was reasonable to settle. Things didn’t turn out the way we would have liked for them to turn out.”

The $195,000 settlement will come from the state’s Insurance Reserve Fund, he said.

Both sides were preparing for trial when the settlement was reached in January. David Marvel, Hayes attorney, said hashing out the details of the case before a jury would have been risky for both sides.

“This was a particularly emotional case,” Marvel said. “There’s no amount of money that could ever correct an injustice. The only thing a lawyer can do is try to maximize that recovery. Obviously the resolution was one that we all felt was adequate under the circumstances.”

Ratliff threatened to kill Hayes and her family in Sept. 20, 2010, after learning she had visited with a divorce attorney, authorities have said. A judge granted a request from Hayes for a restraining order and Ratliff spent 119 days in jail. He was released on Jan. 18, 2011, after pleading guilty to assault and battery.

Four days later, Ratliff shot and killed his estranged mother-in-law, 65-year-old Linda Hayes, authorities said. Hayes spent a few days in a secured location with a security detail while investigators searched for Ratliff.

Deputies searched Hayes’ West Ashley home Jan. 25, 2011, and let her and her family inside.

Ratliff shot Hayes from his hiding space in the home’s attic while she sat watching news reports of the ordeal. He then fatally shot himself, authorities said.

The Sheriff’s Office failed to staff enough deputies at Hayes’ home and did not take the proper steps to keep Ratliff away from her, the civil suit she filed nearly two years later alleged.

Cannon maintained last week that the search of Hayes’ home was “reasonable” though “not 100 percent successful.” He referred to the settlement as a “compromise,” saying he didn’t feel comfortable “butting heads” in court with the victim of a crime.

“That’s not a good situation to be in. We didn’t want to put her through that. That was far more important than any concern about what the outcome might be,” Cannon said. “This was a tragic situation and it serves as a sad example of what we’re trying to prevent through domestic violence legislation. ... There are a lot of dynamics of criminal domestic violence that people don’t know and understand. You go from a relationship which is based on one extreme, love, to the type of anger, turmoil and hatred that possessed Ronald Ratliff. It leads to tragic results.”

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.