By Ed Runyan
Berry and Deanna Meadows of Champion, operators of a septic-system installation company called Digging Dirt, have filed a federal lawsuit against the Trumbull County Health Department and several employees of the county sheriff’s office.
The suit accuses Sheriff Thomas Altiere, Maj. Thomas Stewart and others of conspiring with the health department to maliciously prosecute Berry Meadows on theft charges.
Felony charges against Berry Meadows in two separate cases — one in Niles Municipal Court and one in Warren Municipal Court — were dismissed earlier this year.
The suit says the health department continues to retaliate against Berry and Deanna Meadows for their written and verbal criticism of the health department by trying to have their license to install septic systems revoked.
The suit attempts to stop the health board from taking action at an 11 a.m. Sept. 28 health-board meeting to remove the license. It also seeks $11 million in damages.
Atty. Jack Pierson of Akron, who represents the health department, said Berry Meadows is facing revocation of his license to operate because of “numerous violations of health- department rules regarding septic-system installation.”
“Those violations have been documented by inspections done by health-department sanitarians,” he said, adding, “Mr. Meadows’ allegations regarding retaliation are unfounded.”
The suit contains a copy of a police report written by Stewart that says Angel Bennett of Vienna “came in and filed a complaint” March 2, 2012, against Berry Meadows regarding a septic system Meadows was going to install in 2008.
The suit says Stewart contacted Bennett regarding Meadows, not long after Berry and Deanna Meadows posted statements on a website critical of the health department and Altiere.
The website, called Trumbull County Septic News, said the health department gave preferential treatment to Nick Altiere, a son of the sheriff, with regard to a septic system at a house on Oak Hill Drive.
Stewart could not be reached to comment Monday, and the sheriff said he had no comment on the lawsuit because he had not seen it.
Berry and Deanna Meadows, represented by Atty. David Engler, have been outspoken critics of the health department since last fall and have called for the firing of Dr. James Enyeart, the health commissioner, and Frank Migliozzi, the department’s director of environmental health.
Meadows, who has installed septic systems in Trumbull since 2004, says one of the biggest disputes he’s had with the health department was over a less-expensive type of septic system he felt county residents should be allowed to use.
An April 2012 letter from attorneys for the health department to Berry Meadows says the cheaper septic system wasn’t approved because the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency set more-stringent requirements for county septic systems than elsewhere in the state because of the severe septic-system problems the county was having in the early 2000s.