Village of Jackson Center settles civil lawsuits

SIDNEY – The Village of Jackson Center has agreed to settle two civil lawsuits it was facing involving rape allegations filed against former Police Chief Joseph Cotterman and other defendants. Included was a counterclaim filed by Cotterman against the village and several other parties.

On Monday, village councilmen 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 lawsuits, except for Cotterman.

Per the agreement, Cotterman resigned as chief on Aug. 18, 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.

As part of the agreement, Cotterman is banned from visiting the Village Government Center, and will never seek employment with the village of any type. It was also determined if Cotterman brings future lawsuits against the village he would be responsible for his and the village’s legal expenses.

On Monday, a dismissal notice filed in Shelby County Common Pleas Court indicated the cases had been settled with prejudice. Village officials later provided a 37-page agreement to the Sidney Daily News detailing the settlement.

According to village records, Cotterman has received a one-time payment of $40,000 for back wages. Being subject to state, federal and local withholding taxes, the payout totaled $30,982.01. The village paid an additional $10,000 for Cotterman’s legal fees, and $30,000 to settle the cases.

On Aug. 18, Cotterman was employed by the village for one day allowing him to file for disability benefits. He received a check for $155.72 for that day’s pay.

The $30,000 settlement amount paid each to Cotterman and Suttles were co-written to their respective attorney’s firm to assure a deduction payment of legal fees.

Court cases hit dockets in early 2016

The alleged incident reportedly occurred on Jan. 27, 2016. Authorities reported the allegations included that Cotterman “by force, had sexual contact with a 19-year-old female.”

On Feb. 5, 2016, Cotterman was placed on administrative leave following the filing of the original complaint against him. That Feb. 8, the Jackson Center Village Council, the council voted to make Lt. Chief Chuck Wirick the interim chief.

Earlier this year, 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.

On Jan. 26, Suttles had filed the civil action through her attorney Jason Flower of Lima. They were asking for more than $25,000 in damages from the defendants plus legal costs. She named Cotterman, the village, and interim police chief Chuck Wirick, as co-defendants.

According to court records, Suttles claimed her constitutional and civil rights were violated, that she was assaulted, falsely imprisoned, and suffered emotional distress from an encounter with Cotterman in his role as police chief.

She also claimed Wirick was indifferent, and knew of Cotterman’s past similar behavior, failing to administer proper conduct supervision. The village was named being accused of having repeated knowledge of Cotterman’s behavior and not taking preventative action.

Countersuit filed

In response, Cotterman filed counterclaims against Suttles, Melissa Maloon of Jackson Center, and the Village of Jackson Center, this past June 15.

Court records indicated Cotterman was seeking more than $25,000 in compensatory damages, $25,000 in punitive damages, attorney fees, and any other relief the court may determine, from both Suttles and Maloon. Cotterman claimed the pair were involved in efforts to “smear” his name in the community.

Against the Village, Cotterman was asking for a declaratory judgment for them to provide defense protection against the lawsuit. He claims the village previously failed to provide a defense against prosecution. He was also asking for attorney fees and any additional court-noted relief.

According to the pact, Maloon received no settlement, and agreed to pay her own legal expenses as would the village.

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Cotterman resigns as police chief

By Jim Painter

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.