DAYTON — The former police chief of Jackson Center has filed a federal lawsuit against Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart, Chief Deputy James Frye, Det. Chris Brown and the county, itself.
Online court records claim investigators wrongly gathered information against him in a recent case involving rape allegations.
Joseph E. Cotterman filed the suit recently in U.S. District Court in Dayton through his attorney Donald Screen, of Cleveland. He is pursuing a civil rights and personal injury lawsuit claiming he was the victim of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to train and/or supervise and civil liability for criminal acts.
Screen said he is seeking relief of more than $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for each claim. Lenhart indicated that any comments regarding the case would be referred to Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell, who did not make any statements regarding the case.
The filing involves the investigation of Cotterman when a Jackson Center resident accused him of rape while conducting his duties as police chief. He resigned as chief, Aug. 18, 2017, when an out-of-court settlement was reached.
In late August, the village of Jackson Center agreed to settle two civil lawsuits it was facing involving rape allegations filed against Cotterman and other defendants. Included was a counterclaim filed by Cotterman against the village and several other parties.
Village council members unanimously agreed to pay the balance of the $110,000 settlement following a $40,000 contribution by their insurance company, Ohio Plan. The insurer had agreed to cover legal expenses for all involved in the lawsuits, except for Cotterman.
Per the agreement, Cotterman resigned as chief and has received $80,155.72 in back wages, attorney fees and a settlement claim amount. In the alleged rape case, Meranda Suttles, of Sidney, received a settlement of $30,000 from the village.
All parties agreed not to pursue further legal action against the village, each other or other individuals. It was agreed that none of the parties would claim any liability.
A dismissal notice filed in Shelby County Common Pleas Court indicated the cases had been settled with prejudice.
The alleged incident reportedly occurred, Jan. 27, 2016. Authorities reported that allegations included that Cotterman “by force, had sexual contact with a 19-year-old female.”
Early in 2017, Cotterman was found not guilty by a jury in a state case accusing him of gross sexual imposition. Another state case involving a rape charge was dismissed by prosecutors in May.
The current suit alleges that the defendants used false allegations to gain an indictment and prosecution of Cotterman for rape. It also claims that potential evidence useful to the defense team was withheld.
The alleged method of investigation by Frye reaches back to 2002, when he was police chief in Jackson Center, and Cotterman was hired. Cotterman claims in the suit that Frye ran the department in an “authoritarian and often less-than-forthright manner.” He accuses Frye of having “attempted to procure the prosecution of individuals both men knew to be innocent.”
Cotterman is claiming to have documentation regarding his being ordered by Frye to hide a GPS system in the patrol car of Dwaine Sosby to gather information in seeking to dismiss Sosby from the department. Cotterman claims he was warned to remain silent about the GPS or face criminal charges for interfering with an investigation.
When wrongdoing by Sosby was revealed, he was disciplined. Frye allegedly accused Cotterman of being responsible for placing the device in the cruiser. Cotterman claimed to have been ostracized by the department.
In court records, Cotterman also claims that when rumors arose about Frye’s being involved in an affair, he was blamed for starting the gossip which led to Frye’s incorporating “underhanded methods to incriminate” him for dismissal.
In early 2009, Frye joined the sheriff’s department when then-Sheriff Dean Kimpel took office. Shortly afterwards, the village council advised Cotterman to modernize the equipment in the department. Cotterman claims the upgrades “exceeded expectations” despite Frye’s voicing his displeasure on several occasions.
In 2012, a fatal auto accident just outside the village limits was investigated by sheriff’s deputies. However, Cotterman claims he became involved when he learned that an auxiliary officer, Kourtney Longberry, was a passenger in the vehicle.
Cotterman claims Longberry “eventually verified via a polygraph examination” additional details of the incident and was charged with felony falsification. Investigators questioned Cotterman as to whether he had a personal relationship with Longberry, a question he is claiming was done at Frye’s request.
When Kimpel became embroiled in personal lawsuits and was removed from office, Frye remained on Lenhart’s staff. Cotterman claims Frye continued to attempt to influence decisions made for the Jackson Center Police Department.
When Lenhart was facing a citizen’s group ouster, questions regarding confidentially of a document were raised. Cotterman claims he was revealed to have supplied the document to Lenhart that he claims discovered Frye to be in support of the ouster.
Cotterman claims incriminating evidence and testimony gathered from Suttles, Allisha McElfresh and others was contrived with the purpose to convict Cotterman. He stated in court records that information “could have been verified by a capable and nonpartisan investigator with a modicum of effort.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.