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Sheriff Sued Over 'Moron' Comment

Sheriff Sued Over 'Moron' Comment

The News Tribune

December 05, 2010

LEWIS COUNTY, WA – A firearms instructor has sued Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield alleging defamation of character after Mansfield was quoted in a June 2009 news story as using the phrase “What a bunch of morons.”

Without naming names, Mansfield’s quote in The Seattle Times alluded to allies and experts who surrounded Barb Thompson, the mother of Ronda Reynolds. He made the comment before a civil hearing in which Coroner Terry Wilson’s determination that Reynolds’ death was a suicide was ruled “arbitrary and capricious.”

Thompson at the time was building up for an unprecedented legal move that later persuaded a Thurston County judge to evaluate the case and Reynolds’ death certificate.

Marty Hayes, who was instrumental as a ballistics expert in the civil hearing, filed the lawsuit Nov. 24 in Thurston County Superior Court. He seeks a $250,000 award for character damages.

“What he said to (Times reporter Ian Ith) was an act of defamation; otherwise, I wouldn’t be filing the lawsuit,” Hayes said Friday.

On Feb. 3, Haynes filed a tort claim in the Lewis County Risk Management office explaining Mansfield’s “tortuous conduct” and why he planned to sue.

Mansfield said there’s a reason Hayes took so long to file the lawsuit after filing the tort claim, but that he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the matter.

“Anybody can sue anybody, no matter how frivolous” the lawsuit, Mansfield said.

In the tort claim, Hayes wrote that the “morons” statement was highly offensive and derogatory, especially given that the story appeared in several statewide newspapers, “further causing damage to my professional and personal reputation and standing in the community.”

The lawsuit also cites the Times article, which suggested that the sheriff characterized Thompson’s supporters as manipulators who had an agenda to embarrass the Sheriff’s and Coroner’s offices.

Mansfield was not sheriff when Reynolds, 33, of Toledo, was found dead in December 1998 on the floor of her walk-in closet with a gunshot wound to her head.

In the lawsuit, Hayes said Mansfield expressed interest in investigating the case when he became sheriff in 2005. However, the sheriff’s interest faded when Hayes ran for Lewis County coroner.

Hayes further states that his reputation as a ballistics expert and crime-scene reconstructionist was damaged by Mansfield’s comments in the article.

Mansfield was practicing free speech, said Bruce Johnson, a First Amendment attorney who is the author of Washington’s Reporter’s Shield Law and practices law in Seattle with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

“‘Moron’ is a classic statement of opinion,” he said.

For Hayes’ lawsuit to have merit, Johnson said, Mansfield would have had to have made a false statement of fact.

In fact, Johnson said, Hayes’ lawsuit could be overturned by the state’s new anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) law, which allows defendants to counter-strike a defamation lawsuit early on.

If successful, such a claim could fine a lawsuit’s plaintiff a $10,000 penalty and attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.

Hayes said he was not aware of such a law.

The Lewis County Coroner’s Office originally ruled Reynolds’ manner of death as “undetermined.” It changed the manner of death three times – to suicide, undetermined, suicide – over the years.

Thompson couldn’t find solace with that ruling, and in November 2009 she and a team of pro bono investigators, including Hayes, a forensic pathologist and an attorney, persuaded a Lewis County jury in a civil hearing to order that Wilson’s death manner for Reynolds was undetermined and was “arbitrary and capricious.” The jury also ruled that Reynolds did not commit suicide.


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  • Photo_user_blank_big

    beauinlieuof

    over 3 years ago

    88 Comments

    Both sides are heard here. Some years ago I worked for a company that was having hard times. I remember the director giving speeches to everyone trying to give them a clue of what was going on to prepare themselves. I remember in one of his speeches he was trying to tell people that they had no idea what was going on at his level, but he used the word idiot in his speech. It was even written in the company news papers at the time. What he implied then was not calling them idiots but many of the people took it the wrong way. The took it as a personal affront to them and you should have seen the anger and frustration that arose from it. Even my ex-husband took it wrong. I knew what he had meant so I wasn't insulted by what he had said. That director was right. When the company almost went into bankrutpcy that is when the people realized what he was saying. That director left the company because of all the flax he had received from it.

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    ChiefDC501

    over 3 years ago

    1936 Comments

    Seems interesting that with all the people involved only one stood up and took offense to the moron reference, could it be it hit home with him? Could it be that he took it personal because it's a little too close to home? Could it be the cat is out of the bag and he is now affraid everybody knows what prevoiusly was unspoken? I love the "anti-SLAPP" law we should make this universal-nation wide at least as far as L.E. is concerned! Sounds like, at the end of the article, Mr. Hayes (the self admitted MORON-being he claims the reference was about him) may be doing a double take since he could now be on the hook for fines and fees? What a moron!

  • Imag0190_max50

    OS441

    over 3 years ago

    1038 Comments

    Morons. Now go ahead and sue me. I'll give you my ex-wife as an "award."

  • Att179311_max50

    Elite1grey

    over 3 years ago

    1730 Comments

    What took so long was that he had to look up the meaning of the word MORON and have someone explain to him what it ment

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    CUFFEM3232

    over 3 years ago

    318 Comments

    * Rolls Eyes *

  • Img_0103_max50

    LAWMANTUKES

    over 3 years ago

    6976 Comments

    MORON..?? Well I hate to say it, but this Hayes character isn't exactly convencing that he is not a "MORON". Especially with this obviously weak and frivlous lawsuit.

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    Alexander_Ott

    over 3 years ago

    572 Comments

    I hope the judge literally throws the book at him.

  • Pug_max600_max50

    DALLASCRANE

    over 3 years ago

    19382 Comments

    What a zoo. Too many performers and not enough circuses. The taxpayers foot the bill once again.

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    Book_Em_Mandie

    over 3 years ago

    6746 Comments

    BUMP Riot

  • Car_004_max50

    copper380

    over 3 years ago

    2026 Comments

    watch the link annd just think moron when the guy says yellow LOL it fits!!! JACK WAGON!!

  • Car_004_max50

    copper380

    over 3 years ago

    2026 Comments

    A certain GEICO commercial comes to mind,

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhlWddAXSRA

  • Tieton_max50

    boatdrnk32

    over 3 years ago

    120 Comments

    Moron

  • Cruise_2014_max50

    BigNTS

    over 3 years ago

    6834 Comments

    Bump Retleo!

    Didn't Lincoln say "It's better to stay silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt"? I think the plaintiffs should have heeded this wisdom.

  • Police_link_avatar_max50

    Deputy421

    over 3 years ago

    274 Comments

    I agree with you

  • Img020_max50

    Caleb_w_Gray

    over 3 years ago

    42 Comments

    This crap is disgusting! Grow up be an adult, just because your poor wittle fewwings got hurt doesnt mean you can cry to Mama. Grow some balls and stop being sue happy.

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