Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
Local family seeks $10 million from St. Marys police
By Shelley Grieshop
ST. MARYS - A Rockford family has slapped the St. Marys Police Department with a $10 million lawsuit after an officer allegedly came onto their property without just cause.
The civil lawsuit was filed in Mercer County Common Pleas Court on Friday by Charles Black and his daughter, Stephanie, who are representing themselves without counsel. Some of the 16 allegations in the lawsuit against the department and Officer Thomas Kennedy allege trespassing, negligence, harassment, slander, coercion, assault, malice, inciting violence and invasion of privacy.
The police department and Kennedy have 30 days to reply to the lawsuit.
Kraig Noble, law director for the city of St. Marys, released the following statement: "We believe (the lawsuit) is totally without merit and we'll be defending it vigorously."
The Black family is accusing Kennedy of trespassing on their property earlier this month to deliver a misdemeanor traffic citation to 21-year-old Stephanie Black. The citation stems from an incident that occurred in March in St. Marys.
On March 5, Stephanie Black and her boyfriend allegedly left a bar in downtown St. Marys. While behind the wheel of a station wagon parked in the Chestnut Street parking lot, she was approached by Kennedy who requested she undergo a pin sobriety test, she claims.
Kennedy allegedly determined she was under the influence and took her to jail, Charles Black said. His daughter was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI), a first-degree misdemeanor.
Stephanie Black opted to fight the charge and has requested a jury trial, which is set for Aug. 20. She pleaded not guilty last week in Auglaize County Municipal Court.
The civil suit is based on a related incident on June 20. On that day, Kennedy allegedly stopped by the Blacks' home at 11101 Lombard Road in an attempt to deliver a "failure to maintain physical control" citation, which was recently added to the OVI case pending against Stephanie Black.
Charles Black believes police intend to eventually drop the OVI charge and convict his daughter for failure to control.
On the day of Kennedy's visit to the rural Rockford farm, Stephanie Black and two friends were swimming in a pond on the property and her father was mowing the lawn. Charles Black said he approached the officer, asked him why he was there and requested he leave.
"I asked him to get off my property," he said, adding Kennedy did not have a warrant to be there. "I asked him to leave six times."
Charles Black said Kennedy threatened to cite him for disrupting official business; he allegedly said the city prosecutor gave him permission to be there. Black said he again asked the officer to leave and then threatened to remove him with a backhoe.
Black eventually retrieved his backhoe and parked it at the end of his driveway. The family has a photo showing the police cruiser positioned along the road near the backhoe.
Kennedy reportedly summoned the Mercer County Sheriff's Office for back-up. A deputy arrived and eventually served the citation to Stephanie Black. The incident reportedly ended peacefully.
On June 22, two days after the confrontation at his house, Charles Black said he went to the police station and spoke to Chief Greg Foxhoven. Foxhoven did not seem to be aware of the incident, Black said. After a brief discussion, Foxhoven allegedly asked him to leave.
Foxhoven told The Daily Standard he could not comment on the issue due to the pending lawsuit.
Charles Black said Kennedy had no right to trespass on his property without permission. He believes the citation should have been sent as a certified letter or delivered by other means.
"All I asked was for them to go through the proper channels. Kennedy came out to threaten and humiliate us," he said.
The Blacks said they were later told by police that Kennedy had been "in the area" on another assignment that day.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, law enforcement officers must deliver citations to defendants in person in order to explain them and ensure they are received.
Black said the kind of behavior exhibited by Kennedy "has to stop."
"We (the public) have to go by the letter of the law ... they should be held to a higher standard," he said. "It erodes the trust we're supposed to have in them."