SURFSIDE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A now-former Surfside Beach police sergeant is facing assault and misconduct in office connected to allegations that he used excessive force while arresting a woman in 2021, authorities said.
John Gambone, 51, who was hired by the department in 2015, was arrested Monday morning by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and booked into the J. Reuben Long Detention Center. He was released shortly before noon on a $5,000 bond, according to online jail records.
The charges stem from Gambone’s arrest of a woman in August 2021 that led to a lawsuit last December against Gambone and the town, according to warrants provided to News13 by SLED. The warrants said Gambone used excessive force during the arrest.
According to the warrants, Gambone placed one handcuff on the suspect and then threw them to the ground. The suspect hit their face on the ground, was knocked unconscious and suffered multiple fractures.
In the lawsuit, which was filed in Horry County Circuit Court, Jessica Melton accused Gambone of using excessive force and violating her civil rights when he arrested her after a traffic stop. Melton’s attorneys later sought to have the case transferred to U.S. District Court in Florence, where a trial is possible sometime after May 30, 2024.
Amy Lawrence-Lovely, an attorney with the Lovely Law Firm co-representing Melton, spoke with News13 on behalf of Melton.
“What happened to Ms. Melton wasn’t OK,” she said. “It shouldn’t happen to anybody, shouldn’t happen to her, and there has to be consequences for actions.”
In a statement to News13 on Monday, Surfside Beach officials said SLED chose to charge Gambone “following a lengthy investigation” and deferred all questions to SLED and the state attorney general’s office. The statement didn’t provide any information about when Gambone’s employment with the town ended but referred to him as a former officer.
“It’s hard when their own people investigate them,” Lawrence-Lovely said. “So, this is why we have independent agencies like the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office or SLED to come in and do those things.”
Later Monday afternoon, the town released another statement, which said: “Mr. Gambone separated from the Town of Surfside Beach on October 26, 2023, following a prolonged leave of absence due to medical-related matters, and his separation was not related to the incident giving rise to these charges.”
Lawrence-Lovely said she found it strange that Gambone was separated from the department on Friday and turned himself in three days later.
“I find it highly suspect and I can’t wait to dig into records and find out the truth,” she said.
Gambone previously had two separate stints with the Myrtle Beach Police Department, from May 2010 through January 2014 and from October 1996 through February 2001, according to employment records from the state Criminal Justice Academy.
News13 reached out to Surfside Beach Police Chief Kenneth Hofmann on Monday afternoon but has not heard back.
Gambone has also been connected to another investigation in which a former Surfside Beach police officer who allegedly falsified a police report was allowed to resign instead of being fired following a review, according to documents obtained by News13.