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Twp. denies fire chief’s claims

Mad River Twp. has denied its fire chief’s allegations that it defamed him in connection with an investigation last year and has asked a court to dismiss his civil lawsuit, according to court documents.

The suit filed earlier this year demands monetary compensation in excess of $25,000 and alleges that the defendants — the Mad River Twp.-Enon Fire Department; Mad River Twp.; and Twp. Trustees Joe Catanzaro, Kathy Estep and Robert McClure Jr. — knowingly made false statements about Chief David Leist.

The defendants denied any defamation and stated that all comments made about Leist were true, according to their answer to the suit filed in Clark County Common Pleas Court.

“If the plaintiff was injured or damaged, any and all injury or damage was as a proximate result of circumstances” and was out of the control of and not foreseeable by the defendants, the township’s attorney, Dawn M. Frick, wrote.

Leist’s suit also alleges the defendants publicly disparaged the chief personally and in his position as fire chief, statements that were heard by at least one other witness.

“The defendants conducted an improper and statutorily-unregulated investigation of the plaintiff, based largely on unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo,” the suit says.

Though the township denied the defamation allegations, it admitted several proceedings leading up to the suit, including a preliminary investigation of Leist that quoted unnamed fire department personnel, and administrative leave, suspension and full re-instatement of the chief.

Officials also said they acted lawfully and in good faith and that any statements were made in a proper manner, on proper occasions, were a matter of public record and made on matters of public concern, among others.

The township’s court filing comes after it launched another investigation to look into Leist’s conduct through a management consulting firm.

The investigation by attorney Kelly Babcock, which started several weeks ago, is ongoing, Trustees President Robert McClure Jr. said Tuesday. He said he hoped it would be completed soon, but declined further comment.

Her investigation is pursuant to the “appointment of firefighting personnel” section of the Ohio Revised Code, but what conduct she might be investigating wasn’t available Tuesday.

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