Web only: Village of Bentleyville settles lawsuit filed by former police sergeant

3:43 PM, Apr 17, 2008   |    comments
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BENTLEYVILLE -- This tiny little village with 1,000 residents, one traffic signal, no commercial district and an annual budget of barely $1.3 million, just settled one of four major lawsuits it was facing. On Wednesday night, Village Council and new Mayor Leonard Spremulli formally agreed to a $110,000 settlement in the lawsuit brought by one of its former police officers, police Sgt. Scott Gessic. The village will pay $60,000 of that $110,000 total, with its insurance company paying $50,000. Beyond that, the village will also pay $7,000 worth of attorneys' fees to its insurance company of the $17,000 worth of attorneys' fees the insurance company had already covered. The cap on the fees that the insurance company had agreed to pay had been $10,000. Village Council voted 5-1 Sept. 19, 2007, to dismiss Gessic after Gessic, who was on patrol in a village police cruiser at 1:15 a.m. May 31, struck and injured a 59-year-old resident who was walking along the berm of a village road. Following his dismissal, Gessic sued the village in both federal and common pleas court. Spremulli said the settlement covers the cases in both courts. Gessic filed an administrative appeal in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, saying he had been denied due process when he was dismissed. He also filed in the U.S. District Court, saying the firing had denied him his constitutional rights. "Each side had evaluated its strengths and its weaknesses and that entered into our reasoning on the settlement," Spremulli said Wednesday night. Gessic's attorney Richard Haber said Thursday that the settlement reinstated Gessic to his position as a police sergeant with the village Wednesday but that Gessic, a 16-year-veteran of the department, immediately resigned from the police force Wednesday night after his reinstatement. Haber also detailed the $110,000 settlement, saying the amount reflects $38,192.77 in back pay; $2,436 in reimbursed medical expenses; $44,371.29 for Gessic's "pain and suffering;" and $25,000 in attorneys' fees. "The settlement also has the village removing all non-public records from (Gessic's) personnel file," Haber said. Both Haber and Spremulli said there was no admission of liability on the part of either the village or Gessic. Gessic is still in the process of looking for other employment, Haber said. "My client wants to move on with his life," Haber added. "I commend the mayor and the new law director (Ken Schuman) for getting this resolved," Haber said. Schuman replaced attorney Joe Diemert as law director in late February. Diemert had been law director here for 14 years. Spremulli took over as mayor in January and all four of the lawsuits facing the village had been filed in 2006 and 2007 under the previous mayor, Michael R. Canty. Canty did not run for re-election in November and Spremulli was elected unopposed. The remaining three lawsuits pending that involve village officials include: a lawsuit filed by Henry Spain, the resident Gessic struck with the village police cruiser; a federal lawsuit filed against Canty and former Village Council members Debbie Axelrod, Harvey Bruner and Chris Lockhart by the former Village Treasurer Margaret "Sam" Bays and her husband, Jim; and a lawsuit filed against Canty and several former police officers by Police Chief Tim Pitts. Bruner had just under two years left on his council term when he resigned Monday, effective immediately. Axelrod and Lockhart did not seek re-election in November. "I came into the office with the intention of settling all these lawsuits and I hope that I can get the Bays lawsuit and the (Pitts) lawsuit settled very soon," Spremulli said.


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