Victim sues CCSO for not protecting her family from killer
By Sandra Ecklundsecklund@abcnews4.com
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Melissity Hayes lived in fear of her husband, Ronald for over a decade and their abusive relationship finally came to an end with the shooting death of her mother and a violent encounter in January 2011. Now, Hayes is suing the agency that was supposed to protect her and her family.
According to an affidavit, Melissity Hayes and Ronald David Ratliff had been in a relationship since 1990 with several visits from Charleston County Sheriff's deputies for reports of extreme domestic violence.
In September of 2010, the affidavit states that Ratliff had threatened Hayes with a butcher knife and was finally charged with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature. Court records also state that the CCSO knew Ratliff "had drug and alcohol problems and was suicidal. and that the Plaintiff (Hayes) and her family, including their children, were extremely fearful that Ratliff would cause harm to them."
The affidavit states Ratliff stayed in jail for 119 days but was released on Jan. 18, 2011, after pleading guilty for assault and battery and receiving a sentence of time served. Meanwhile, Hayes got a restraining order.
On the news of Ratliff's release, Melissity's parents came to stay with her. Just four days after his release, Ronald Ratliff was wanted by police again, this time for shooting and killing his mother-in-law.
The affidavit says Ratliff came into the house through an upstairs side door, went into a bedroom where Melissity's parents were watching TV and fatally shot her mother, Linda, twice. The affidavit claims Ratliff tried to shoot the father as well but his gun jammed so he ran off instead.
For three days Melissity Hayes and her family slept in hotels under Charleston County Sheriff's deputies' protective custody. Authorities believed Ratliff fled to Florida because he had family and friends in Pensacola.
On January 25, Melissity and her father returned to the home where Linda had been shot and killed. The affidavit says a CCSO patrol was put into place there and that same day Ratliff's van was found almost half-an-hour away on Sol Legare Road in Folly Beach. SWAT was called in and they slowly approached the van with their guns drawn. Ratliff was not inside.
Moments later, squad cars rushed up Sol Legare with their sirens whaling. Shots had been fired back at the Hayes' home on Debbenshire Drive.
Hayes was allowed to return to the house Tuesday afternoon to plan her mother's funeral, when Ratliff allegedly shot her through an air conditioning vent.
"The decision of whether or not we should have posted people there is one we will agonize over and give a lot of thought to," said Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon.
The affidavit says Ratliff fired from the attic where he had been hiding for three days. Court records say the family was sitting at the kitchen table, watching news reports about Ratliff's van when he "fired two shots from the attic" striking Melissity in the neck, "one bullet lodged in her back, next to her spine, where it remains today."
According to authorities, someone got Melissity in the car and began heading towards the hospital. A Charleston City Police officer pulled the car over for speeding. When the officer saw someone had been shot, he transported her to St. Francis hospital. She had non-life threatening injuries and according to hospital officials was soon released.
Meanwhile back on Debbenshire Drive, Ronald Ratliff had gotten into the home and the detective on protective detail had cleared the family outside.
"They saw what appeared to be blood coming down from the vent in the attic and that's when they set the perimeter," Sheriff Cannon said.
Law enforcement with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and Charleston City Police surrounded the home. They shot gas grenades inside and slowly made their way in searching for the source of the blood and for Ratliff.
At around 7 p.m. authorities found Ratliff's body in the attic. The affidavit claims deputies also found "food wrappers, plates, cups, feces and traces of urine in the attic, indicating that Ratliff had been hiding there for a significant length of time."
Linda Weaver is a retired police officer who lives across the street from Hayes' home. She says she was taking care of the family's dog, when she noticed something was wrong.
"The french doors going from the sunroom to their dining room, kitchen area was open, and so I immediately backed away and called [Melissity]," Weaver said.
She says she also told police she had a gut feeling Ratliff might be hiding in the attic, and urged them to check it one more time.
"He had rebuilt and re-insulated the attic - worked on some heat ducts up there," she said. "He knew that attic really well. He knew where he could hide."
She said the officer didn't listen. She went home, but couldn't shake the feeling Ratliff was back.
"There was a part of me that wanted to put on my bullet proof vest I still have and a weapon I have and go down there and clear that attic myself," she said.
She stayed put, but later heard gunshots from the attic where police now say Ratliff had been hiding all along.
The affidavit states: "Fugitives frequently hide from police in attics. Therefore, standard police procedure and training require law enforcement to fully and adequately search attics when securing a residence. CCSo knew or should have known that Ratliff was likely to hide in the attic. Had CCSO properly searched the attic of the residence, Ratliff would have been discovered and the injury to the plaintiff would not have occurred."
Melissity Hayes is suing the Charleston County Sheriff's Office for personal injury, medical bills, lost wages, mental anguish and conscious pain and suffering.
You can read the affidavit in its entirety here.
Sandy Senn, a lawyer representing the sheriff's office, said in a statement Friday that deputies are not to blame.
"Deputies checked the attic but did not see the murderer hiding in an insulated compartment which he had designed for concealment. The villain in this sad case is the estranged husband, not the deputies who tried in vain to protect Mrs. Hayes."