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Skowron suit falls through



Published: Thu, August 9, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The lawyer for a former deputy sheriff said an appeal is likely.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed last year against former Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance and three of his deputies.

It was filed by Ronald Skowron, a former deputy sheriff and city school board member, who said that he was wrongly prosecuted in 1998 and that he suffered retaliation for supporting Chance's political rival.

Skowron was seeking $4.5 million in the suit, which he filed in U.S. District Court, Cleveland.

"The suit was wholly without merit, and we are glad the judge ruled in our favor," said Thomas N. Michaels, the assistant prosecutor who represented the county.

Skowron's lawyer, Alan Belkin of Cleveland, said he'll recommend that Skowron appeal the decision.

Besides Chance, who is imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Mich., the suit named as defendants Jeffrey Chance, who is Phil Chance's brother and a deputy sheriff, and deputies Rick Farina and John Antonucci.

Allegation: Skowron alleged the four individuals presented distorted facts to authorities that led to a criminal indictment being returned against him in April 1998. Skowron said it was retribution for his support of Randall Wellington for sheriff in the 1996 election, which Chance won.

A special grand jury charged Skowron with tampering with records and theft in office related to reimbursement for a bulletproof vest from the Youngstown Police Department, where Skowron worked as a patrolman.

Prosecutors dismissed the charges in January 2000 on the condition that Skowron resign from the school board and pay back $418 that prosecutors said he was overpaid for the vest.

Prosecutors also dismissed charges that Skowron received nearly $8,700 more in salary than he should have between 1994-1996 from the city and county for working the same hours or attending school board meetings.

The suit said the defendants knew there was no probable cause to believe Skowron committed the offenses.

Protected: Judge Lesley Wells ruled the defendants are protected by qualified immunity and dismissed the claims against them.

Qualified immunity means individual government employees are immune from such suits if there is no clearly established constitutional right at issue or if a reasonable person would not believe that he or she was violating any constitutional rights, Belkin said.

The judge ruled Skowron's complaint did not specify what actions were allegedly taken by each defendant, how the evidence they presented in support of his 1998 indictment was incomplete or inaccurate, and what role each of the defendants played in allegedly distorting facts.

The complaint also does not specify the particular actions taken by Skowron in openly supporting Wellington over Chance.

Without those facts, Skowron could not overcome the county's claim of qualified immunity, so the suit was dismissed.

bjackson@vindy.com




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