An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported George McMaster attended trial on Monday. He was not present either Monday or Tuesday.
A Richland County jury Tuesday returned a $100,000 verdict against the brother of S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in a civil trial arising from a 2014 assault.
George McMaster pleaded guilty in 2016 to assault and battery, third degree, after being accused of accosting a waiter at the Palmetto Club on May 13, 2014, pulling down his pants and touching him on his genitals and rear.
In this week’s civil trial arising from that incident, the 12-member jury on Tuesday afternoon returned a unanimous verdict awarding the now-26-year-old waiter $50,000 in actual damages and another $50,000 in punitive damages for emotional distress caused by the assault.
“We’re pleased with the jury’s verdict, as always, because we feel it’s fair and reasonable,” said the waiter’s attorney, Reece Williams.
Jurors on Tuesday deliberated for more than two and a half hours before returning the verdict.
George McMaster, the governor’s younger brother, did not appear in court either Monday or Tuesday. The trial proceeded without him. Defendants in civil cases are not required to appear in their trials.
McMaster’s attorney, Brian Dumas, told the jury the waiter was seeking a payday by deliberately exaggerating what Dumas described as a harmless act of assistance during a wardrobe malfunction.
Dumas said the waiter served McMaster 10 or 11 drinks in a private, secluded dining hall within the Palmetto Club — a Sumter Street gathering place for the capital city’s legal, political and business elite. Dumas said McMaster was advising the waiter on his clothing and offered him a pair of suspenders.
“He puts them on. He, himself, admitted they weren’t set up right, and then there’s some assistance in adjusting the suspenders,” Dumas told the jury, stressing McMaster never grabbed or groped the waiter, who alleged McMaster “brushed” and “touched” his genitals.
Jurors on Tuesday heard from the waiter’s ex-girlfriend, who testified he spoke that night about potential payout from a lawsuit.
“And he had a revelation,” said the waiter’s former girlfriend, Rebecca Rue. “He was like, ‘You know what? This is going to be a lawsuit. ... This is a big name. ... This is going to be money.’ ”
Dumas echoed her testimony in his jury argument: “He’s not talking about trauma. He’s talking about ‘How much is this worth?’ ”
In his closing argument, Williams cited previous testimony from a psychologist who testified the waiter suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and underwent six months worth of counseling.
Dumas, though, noted the waiter had suffered “other traumas” in his life he argued more likely contribute to his PTSD. Dumas said the waiter had admitted to “flirting” with McMaster before accepting the suspenders.
Williams, however, told jurors the facts are “uncontradictory.”
“This young man was a waiter at the Palmetto Club,” Williams said. “He was studying hospitality management. He was 21 or 22 years old at the time, and a prominent member of the club assaulted him.
“It’s a very distressing set of facts,” Williams said, urging the jury to use its verdict to “send a message.”
“It will be understood that this kind of conduct is not going to be tolerated,” Williams said. “For the public, there will be a declaration ... ‘We don’t care who it is. We don’t care whether it’s the brother’s governor or Joe Blow at the Palmetto Club. It’s just not going to be tolerated.”
In his 2016 guilty plea, McMaster was given a 30-day suspended sentence by the late state Circuit Judge Tanya Gee. As part of the sentence, McMaster was banned for life from the Palmetto Club.
At that guilty plea, McMaster’s attorney, Johnny Gasser, told Gee that his client had various health and addiction issues, “all of which were in play” during the incident.
Dumas declined to comment on the jury’s verdict. He has 10 days to file a notice of appeal. State Circuit Judge Clifton Newman presided.
A spokesman for the governor’s office declined to comment on Tuesday’s verdict.