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City attorney urges settlement

The city attorney is recommending that commissioners settle two lawsuits filed by a pair of police officers who resigned last year amid allegations they had sex with a Clearwater Beach woman while on duty.

Former officers James Mehr Jr. and Anthony Pearn resigned last spring as an internal affairs investigation into the allegations was winding down. City Manager Bill Horne said he intended to fire the officers if they did not quit.

Since then, the former officers have sued the city. They accused city officials of not following public records laws when they asked for copies of the investigation and of coercing them to resign, then not giving them a name-clearing hearing.

City officials say the former officers' allegations are false. But City Attorney Pam Akin is recommending city commissioners settle the lawsuits for a total of $15,000.

City commissioners are scheduled to vote on the terms of the proposed settlement, in which the city admits no wrongdoing, at a meeting Thursday.

"The cost of settlement is less than the cost of trying the case," Akin said. "We believe that this is the most prudent decision given the unknowns when you go to trial and the cost of litigating."

Mehr and Pearn were called to the Clearwater Beach home of Cynthia Jones on April 14, 2000, after a friend called 911 to report that Jones was suicidal.

Jones claims the officers gave her depression medication, then stripped off their uniforms and had sex with her.

Jones claims the men returned twice that night to have sex. She claims Mehr returned several other times in the next 18 months to have sexual relations. She has provided conflicting statements about whether Pearn came to her home again.

Mehr and Pearn have denied her allegations. The former officers say they went to Jones' home that night, checked on her well-being and left. No sex ever occurred, they have said.

But police officials found Jones' story credible after a seven-month internal investigation, which is why Horne would have fired them. They instead resigned in May 2002.

But a flurry of legal actions followed. In an effort to restore their reputations, the officers tried to rescind their resignations, which they said were coerced by officials with the Police Department and the police union.

Police Department and union leaders deny those allegations.

A month later, Mehr and Pearn sued the city and the union. They have since agreed to dismiss the suit against the union.

They also sued Jones for slander, a case that is still pending.

Jones, meanwhile, also sued the city of Clearwater, accusing the department of poor supervision that allowed the alleged misconduct to occur. That suit also is still pending.

"At this point in time, I'm still hopeful that this matter will settle," said Jones' attorney, Steven Loewenthal. "But at this point in time, I don't know if it's going to settle or if there's going to be a trial."

The attorney for the former officers, Robert Walker, said Pearn has moved to Arizona and is working in the security industry. Mehr, he said, is still in the area and has been working odd jobs and construction.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is still reviewing the case to determine whether to strip the former officers' law enforcement certifications. Walker said he thinks he can persuade the state agency to allow Mehr and Pearn to keep their certifications, which would allow them to work in law enforcement again.

_ Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tischsptimes.com.

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