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Ex-official sues Tarpon over report

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Former City Commissioner Dudley Salley is suing the city, claiming a police officer and a fire lieutenant conspired to sully his name.

The lawsuit results from a fire May 24 near Salley's house.

In a police report, Officer J. H. Eaton said Salley appeared at the late-night tree fire in his pajamas, unsteady on his feet and smelling of alcohol. The city commissioner was interfering with fire personnel, who were attempting to put out the blaze, the report said.

Salley says that he thought an excessive number of firefighters and police officers had been dispatched to the fire, and that he was looking out for taxpayers by questioning why it took so many people to investigate a tree fire.

Salley was threatened with arrest for obstruction, although no charges were filed.

Eaton's report describing Salley's conduct was reported in the Times.

Salley denies he smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet. He has demanded an independent investigation into the police report, and says he thinks it was fabricated in retaliation for his political stands that were unpopular with the Fire Department.

About two weeks after the Times article, Salley resigned from the City Commission, where he had served since 1992, saying he was "emotionally exhausted."

In his 23-page lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Tampa, Salley says that Eaton prepared "an unnecessary false police report" to make him look bad.

Other city officials compounded the injury, the lawsuit says, by typing the report to give it more prominence instead of writing it, by releasing it to the media and by refusing to have an outside agency investigate the conduct of the Police and Fire departments.

The lawsuit seeks damages for libel, emotional distress and for stigma to his reputation.

"It think this is just a case where courts are going to have to decide: Does a commissioner have the right to ask questions (about wasteful use of resources) without being accused of the crime of obstruction and without being accused of being a public drunk?" Salley's attorney, John A. Shahan, said Wednesday.

Salley's lawsuit also says that fire Lt. Richard Parker conspired with Eaton to create the report and cause Salley public embarrassment in retaliation for Salley advocating that middle management jobs like Parker's be eliminated.

It says that fire Chief Harry Leonard told Salley the report was "pay back" for an investigation Salley spearheaded into campaign contributions by the Tarpon Springs Firefighters Association.

Leonard said Wednesday the allegation was not worthy of a response. He would not comment further, he said, because he had not seen the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also says that police Chief Mark LeCouris made certain the report was given to the Times, knowing that it would reflect unfavorably on Salley.

LeCouris, City Manager Costa Vatikiotis and personnel director James Kolianos all showed malicious indifference to Salley's rights when they failed to turn the matter over to the state attorney' office, Sheriff's Office or some other agency for investigation, the lawsuit says.

LeCouris said Wednesday that he released the report only after the Times filed a public records request under Florida law. He said he had no choice but to release it.

He said his own investigation could find no wrongdoing by any of the personnel involved that night.

"There was no reason to bring in the sheriff, (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) or any other agency to look at something, when there's nothing to look at," he said.

LeCouris said he went out of his way to protect Salley's interest.

"If anything, I spent more time than I should have watching out for his interests," LeCouris said.

Vatikiotis also said that the city went "above and beyond the expectations" in investigating Salley's complaint.

"I'm just deeply disappointed that former Commissioner Salley has resorted to this action," Vatikiotis said.

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