CANFIELD, Ohio (WKBN) — Trumbull County Commissioner Niki Frenchko has filed a federal civil lawsuit following her arrest in July.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division by attorneys David Betras and Matt Miller-Novak of Cincinnati.
Sheriff Paul Monroe, Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa, former Commissioner Frank Fuda and the two deputies who were involved in Frenchko’s arrest are named as defendants in the case.
The lawsuit claims Frenchko’s first, fourth and 14th Amendments rights were violated by “a ruthless false arrest intended to punish a political adversary for criticizing the County Sheriff.”
Frenchko was arrested during a county commissioners meeting on July 7 while responding to a letter written by Trumbull County Sheriff Paul Monroe, read by a clerk during the meeting.
In the letter, Monroe asked Frenchko for a public apology in response to an email she read in a meeting in early June. That email, sent to Frenchko from a former inmate’s mother, claimed the inmate was denied requested medical treatment at the jail. Monroe says the accusation was false, since the inmate never requested medical attention, and asked that Frenchko write a letter of apology.
The lawsuit states the following:
Defendants arrested her for disrupting a public meeting based upon a facially unconstitutional statute. Indeed, R.C. S 2917.12 permits a government to arrest a person for speech that “outrages the sensibilities” of a government board and hurts the government’s feelings. This statute facially discriminates against viewpoints, it is vague, and it violates the overbreadth doctrine. In addition to this false arrest, Sheriff Monroe has continued a pattern of abusing his police power to intimidate Commissioner Frenchko with battery and unlawful seizures to interfere with her civil rights. In fact, Sheriff Monroe specifically seized Commissioner Frenchko’s phone and assaulted her in order to intimidate her and deprive her of her right to take video recordings in an open public meeting in a public building.
The misdemeanor charge of disturbing a public meeting was dismissed in Warren Municipal Court in August.
“I was arrested for exercising freedom of speech while I was doing my job as I was elected to do … Jailing those with opposing views should never happen in a free society … I intend to sue every official and employee of the ‘good ol’ boys club’ who schemed to jail me … Getting this case dismissed was the first step to that,” said Frenchko in August after her criminal case was dismissed.
“Every American should be outraged by this. It was truly chilling, and those who committed these vile acts must be held accountable,” Betras said. “We can — and we must — send a loud and clear message that political oppression is unacceptable in Trumbull County. It’s unacceptable in Ohio, and it’s unacceptable in the United States of America.”
Frenchko has asked the court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, instructing the defendants named in the lawsuit from destroying records, seizing her property and interfering with her right to record public meetings. The memorandum in support of the request points to not only her arrest, but also an incident where she claims Monroe seized her phone during a meeting because she was recording it.
The court documents requesting the restraining order state the following:
On video, Sheriff Monroe approached Commissioner rapidly. Sheriff Monroe is on video stating that he did not consent to being recorded. Sheriff Monroe then lunged at Commissioner Frenchko, he grabbed her phone while she was holding the stand, and he slammed it on the table. After seizing her phone, Sheriff Monroe told the media that he had a right to take her phone because he claimed he had an expectation of privacy (even though it was a public meeting).
A hearing on that issue has been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Monroe says he supports the decision the deputies had to make.
“I support the decision the deputies had to make when a county employee was put under emotional distress by the actions of Michele Frenchko,” Monroe told First News. “The claims that she makes of all this illusion and scheming are made up and untruthful. At the end of the day, the Sheriff’s Office is there to protect the public and we’ll continue to do our job, but she continues to waste the time of the County employees.”
Monroe added, “We are too busy to continue to play her games.”