Lawsuit against sheriff could be dismissed
May 6, 2006
Salt Lake-based attorney Brian Barnard has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit he filed against several Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputies last year.
Mark F. Edwards, who is from Australia, claimed former Sheriff’s Office deputy Tiffany Blair violated his civil rights when she illegally searched him and denied him due process after Edwards was arrested in Snyderville.
"It certainly is reflective of the fact that perhaps the case was not particularly meritorious in the first place," said Salt Lake-based attorney Peter Stirba, special counsel for the Sheriff’s Office. "It is a vindication of our officers and it is a vindication of what the sheriff’s department did."
According to a complaint filed by Barnard in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on May 10, 2005, Blair was not justified in subduing Edwards with "pepper spray/mace" while arresting him in a parking lot at Kimball Junction in 2004.
"At no time did Edwards resist or fight with these officers," Barnard’s complaint states.
Edwards was charged with assaulting a police officer, interfering with a public servant and disorderly conduct and was detained in the Summit County Jail for roughly five hours, Barnard said.
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"It’s those officers like Tiffany Blair that cause the public to question law enforcement," Barnard said during a telephone interview Thursday. "I don’t think there is any question at all that Tiffany Blair was out of line, overreacted and wrongfully treated my client. The problem is, in order to litigate that, it has to be done in the federal courts in Utah and my client’s in Australia."
The charges against Edwards were dismissed, he added.
"The reason they were dismissed is because the Sheriff’s Office went out afterwards and interviewed disinterested third-party witnesses who said, yeah, there wasn’t any reason for what Tiffany Blair did," Barnard said. "This case should be pursued. I think what happened was wrong,"
Stirba insists Barnard asked for the dismissal because Summit County "had recently
turned up the heat with respect to discovery, finding out facts and circumstances relating to [Edwards’] position and also his background."
"What is really of concern here is not the location of Mr. Edwards, but perhaps what otherwise we might ascertain through the discovery process," Stirba said.
Edwards had sought damages from the county.
"Obviously, we’re entitled to get information that is relevant to the validity of those claims," Stirba said. "[Edwards] was a resident of Australia when he filed the case last year. So the fact that now it becomes a problem for him is inconsistent and anomalous."
Judge Ted Stewart hadn’t ruled Friday on Barnard’s request that the case be dismissed without prejudice so the allegations could possibly be pursued in the future.
"[Edwards] would like to be able to reopen it," Barnard said.
Edwards’ allegations, however, are without merit, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said.
"Quite frankly, I don’t think there was any basis for it," he said. "I’m glad it’s gone."
Blair resigned after the incident, Edmunds said.
"While we do get sued, we rarely, if ever, are sued successfully," the sheriff said. "We live in a very litigious society where people can bring lawsuits to bear for any reason, even if they’re without merit."
Edmunds is confident a lawsuit filed against him by Coalville resident Sheryl Clark will also be dismissed from federal court.
Clark claims she sued Edmunds because he assaulted her shortly after he was sworn into office in 2003. Stirba also represents Edmunds in this case and has requested summary judgment for Summit County.
Meanwhile, Edmunds was named in a $1 million lawsuit filed against the Sheriff’s Office in U.S. District Court April 14. The 33-page complaint alleges that several deputies illegally searched a condominium in Snyderville without a warrant.