Officer loses slander suit in spray case
[Dayton, OH]

Rob Modic Dayton Daily News
February 2, 2001, Friday, City Edition
Copyright 2001 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.
Dayton Daily News
February 2, 2001, Friday, City Edition

(DAYTON, Ohio) -- A judge has thrown out a lawsuit by reinstated Dayton police officer Michael McDonald alleging he was slandered and his civil rights violated when he was fired for pepper-spraying a Wendy's employee.

Judge Jeffrey E. Froelich of Montgomery County Common Pleas Court ruled that McDonald could not sue over statements about his actions by Rev. Raleigh Trammell, president of the Dayton chapter of the SCLC, and by former Police Chief Ronald Lowe Sr. during an arbitration hearing.

McDonald complained that Trammell said, "I wonder why he didn't think about (being treated unfairly) when he assaulted the young lady." When served with McDonald's complaint, Trammell said "I'm glad he didn't pepper spray me."

Lowe said he "believed he (McDonald) was enjoying himself when the incident occurred."

Lowe's statements were protected as part of a judicial proceeding and as opinion; Trammell's statements were opinion and "sarcasm and not something the reasonable listener would have heard as a fact," Froelich wrote in his Jan. 23 opinion.

"I thought it was groundless from the outset," Trammell said of the lawsuit, won by his attorney, Neil Freund. "It has not intimidated me on that or any other issue I decided to speak out on."

Dayton Law Director J. Rita McNeil said, "We're just happy with the outcome, and hopefully we can bring closure to this entire case."

Froelich also dismissed McDonald's claim that his firing was excessive, reverse discrimination and a violation of due process.

Froelich said McDonald failed to show he got a greater penalty than other officers disciplined for similar acts. The judge also found that the city had justification to fire McDonald, and that binding arbitration, which ordered him reinstated, cured any procedural defect.

Elaine Bernstein, McDonald's lawyer, declined comment.

McDonald, 36, was suspended without pay July 24, 1998, for arresting and pepper spraying Wendy's employee Brandy Martin, then 17, whom he accused of shortchanging him Feb. 17. He was acquitted of a misdemeanor assault charge, but later placed on leave without pay.

In January 2000, Froelich upheld the arbitrator's order to reinstate McDonald. A state appeals court affirmed the ruling March 10 and ordered McDonald reinstated to the Dayton Police Academy.

The city paid Martin $60,000 in December 1999 to settle her lawsuit against the city.


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