Jury awards Lexington police officer $500,000 in defamation suit
A Middlesex Superior Court jury has awarded a Lexington police officer $500,000 in a defamation lawsuit stemming from a distracted driving citation he issued nearly five years ago, court records show.
Officer John Frissore had sued Curtis W. Schondelmeyer and Scott Russian, a married couple, alleging they “acted in concert” to defame him and “injure his reputation” after Schondelmeyer was issued the citation in 2014, according to the complaint.
“For four-and-a-half years, Officer Frissore has been fighting to clear his name, and we couldn’t be happier that the jury has found they committed perjury and falsely accused him,” said Frissore’s attorney, Leon Kesten, during a phone interview.
On Monday, the jury found that $400,000 would fairly compensate Frissore for damages caused by Schondelmeyer’s defamatory statements and awarded Frissore $100,000 for Russian’s defamatory statement, according to the verdict slip. With interest, Kesten indicated the judgment would top $700,000.
Messages left with Schondelmeyer and Russian’s attorney were not returned.
The complaint claimed defamation, slander, and libel, alleging both Schondelmeyer and Russian lied, resulting in damage to Frissore’s reputation and “severe emotional distress.”
According to the suit, Frissore was working a traffic detail in May 2014, when he saw Schondelmeyer reach out with his cellphone in his right hand while driving a black SUV. Frissore believed Schondelmeyer was taking a photo with the phone and saw that there were no passengers in the car, according to court documents.
The next day, Frissore pulled registration records of the SUV and determined that Schondelmeyer and Russian were the owners. He recognized Schondelmeyer as the driver, and mailed him a civil citation for distracted operation of the motor vehicle.
Two days after receiving the citation in the mail, Schondelmeyer told a Lexington police detective that he had used his phone to take a photo of the officer using a cellphone while directing traffic, but did not tell the sergeant that he was the operator of the vehicle, according to the complaint.
Schondelmeyer later alleged that Frissore had issued the citation in retaliation for “Schondelmeyer’s complaint made to the Lexington Police Department.”
“At the time that Schondelmeyer made this statement, he knew that it was false,” read the complaint.
Schondelmeyer and Russian then “agreed to fabricate a false scenario claiming that Russian was the driver of the vehicle and Schondelmeyer was the passenger at the time the picture was taken,” according to the complaint.
Schondelmeyer prepared an affidavit that stated that Russian was driving the SUV when Schondelmeyer took the photo of Frissore, according to the complaint.
Schondelmeyer also took the story to Boston 25, the local Fox affiliate, telling a reporter that he received a citation in retaliation for making a complaint against Frissore, according to court documents.
He told a reporter that he was not driving when the took the photo, and a newscast aired a story detailing Schondelmeyer’s allegations.
During a hearing, Schondelmeyer testified he was not driving, and provided the clerk-magistrate with the affidavit signed by Russian.
The clerk-magistrate accepted Schondelmeyer’s statement and found him not responsible for the citation.
Boston 25 ran a second piece regarding the incident that included another interview with Schondelmeyer, according to court documents.
Phone records demonstrated that the couple lied to Fox Boston and the clerk-magistrate about who was driving, according to the complaint.
“To get out of the ticket, they made up a story that his partner was driving,” said Kesten. “They reached out to Fox to trash my client.”