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Lunsford withdraws threat to sue Citrus sheriff

INVERNESS — Mark Lunsford isn't going to sue the Citrus County Sheriff's Office after all.

Lunsford agreed to rescind his threat of a wrongful death lawsuit Friday after a three-hour meeting with Citrus Sheriff Jeff Dawsy.

He pledged to work with Dawsy and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to improve policies for child abduction investigations.

"We didn't unearth anything marvelous. We just answered some questions, came up with some direction," Dawsy said.

A month ago, the father-turned-crusader filed notice that he planned to sue the Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for mishandling the 2005 disappearance and death of his 9-year-old daughter Jessica.

Lunsford and his attorneys demanded that Dawsy concede that he made mistakes during the investigation. The sheriff adamantly stood behind his agency's work.

The lawsuit sparked a backlash in the community and prompted nasty exchanges between the two parties. As late as Friday morning, the Sheriff's Office indicated a resolution was unlikely. But that changed when Lunsford and Dawsy emerged from their meeting at Lunsford's parents' home in Homosassa and held a joint news conference.

"There was no admission of any wrongdoing," Dawsy said. "Mark never asked for that."

Lunsford, who initiated the meeting, called it a great conversation but refused to divulge much of what was said because it was private.

"I've said ever since the beginning, and I'll stick to it, that the sheriff's department did everything they knew how to do," he said. In an interview afterward, Lunsford said his lawyers advised him to file the notice to preserve the possibility of a lawsuit before a time limit expired.

He wanted to focus attention on law enforcement procedures in missing children cases, but blamed the media, in particular shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, for sensationalizing the story. Clem had been particularly critical of Lunsford on his radio show.

"You guys turned this into a circus and never said jack about policies and procedures," Lunsford said of the media.

Lunsford's attorney, Eric Block of Jacksonville, said he knew about the meeting, but Lunsford never told him about a settlement. In a telephone interview after the press conference, Block kept the door open for a potential lawsuit but wouldn't say anything more about the issue.

Lunsford withdraws threat to sue Citrus sheriff 03/28/08 [Last modified: Saturday, March 29, 2008 12:10am]
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