A man arrested and later exonerated for theft of a public document filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 21 against the Town of Dewey Beach, the mayor, a police officer and a former town official, citing civil rights violations.
In the complaint, Jeffrey Smith stated that Mayor TJ Redefer, Dewey Police Sgt. Clifford Dempsey and former audit committee Chair Larry Silver violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights during the Aug. 10, 2018 arrest.
Smith was arrested after he left an Aug. 3, 2018 audit committee meeting with a draft financial audit report distributed and discussed during the public meeting.
Complaints filed by Smith attorney Stephen P. Norman include retaliation, unlawful detention, use of excessive force, malicious prosecution and battery.
“The adverse actions of Silver, the mayor and Dempsey caused plaintiff to suffer an injury that would likely chill a person of ordinary firmness of resolution,” the complaint states.
Smith requested a jury trial and seeks compensatory damages, attorney fees, lost wages, and “punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish defendants and discourage them and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.”
The complaint states Smith suffered loss of liberty, severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and psychological and reputational injuries.
The complaint states that Redefer, as mayor, was a final policymaker for the town, and that his objective was to silence critics of the town’s participation in the military surplus program.
“In fulfillment of this goal the mayor provided a false witness statement to Dempsey with added credibility due to his status as mayor,” the complaint reads. “The actions of the mayor as final policymaker for the Town of Dewey was the moving force behind the deprivation of plaintiff’s rights.”
In the complaint, Smith states Redefer provided four false statements to police, including that meeting attendees were told the document must be returned and that Smith assaulted Silver.
The complaint states that Redefer could not have witnessed Smith’s behavior because he left the meeting at least 10 minutes before Smith arrived, and that Silver himself did not allege that Smith assaulted him.
“These false statements alleging that plaintiff committed a crime were made to intimidate plaintiff who was a vocal critic of the mayor’s failure to be accountable on the military surplus program,” the complaint reads. “The mayor conspired with Silver to provide false information to Dempsey to have plaintiff arrested.”
The complaint states that in his incident report, Dempsey failed to list witnesses who spoke with police and who “did not see how a theft charge could be substantiated for taking a public document handed out [in] a public meeting,” and that Dempsey did not arrest any other attendees who took the document.
The complaint states Silver filed a false police report, and it references Silver’s falsification of audit committee meeting minutes “to cover the false statements made in the incident reports by the mayor, Silver and others.”
According to the complaint, “The mayor conspired with Silver to replace the actual approved minutes of the audit committee with altered minutes that set forth a false narrative that supported Silver and the mayor’s statements in the incident report.”
Smith’s complaint also states Silver used excessive force when he tried to rip the document from Smith’s hands and when he tried to yank Smith’s license plate from his vehicle.
Smith said many charges are already in the public record. “At least for now, the lawsuit charges speak for themselves.”
Dewey Town Manager Scott Koenig said the town received a copy of the complaint and forwarded it to the town insurance company for review.