Hamilton County judge rules for all City of Wilmington, Clinton County defendants in $27M suit by family of man who died in law enforcement custody

By Tom Barr - [email protected]

The court’s entire six-page ruling is online at wnewsj.com .

WILMINGTON — A judge has ruled against the plaintiff and for Clinton County and City of Wilmington agencies and departments and 37 individuals associated with those entities and others who were sued by the family of a man who died in law enforcement custody in 2019.

Judge J. Patrick Foley III of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas — who was assigned to the case of “Faith Mclemore, et al., Plaintiff v. Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, Defendants” filed on January 5 and seeking $27 million — made the six-page ruling on Monday in Clinton County Common Pleas Court.

Clinton County Common Pleas Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck recused himself from the case in December. In January, the Ohio Supreme Court assigned the case to Judge Foley.

The defendants were represented by the County Risk-Sharing Authority (CORSA) retained firm Isaac Wiles in Columbus and attorney Jeffrey Stankunas.

Those sued had filed motions to dismiss the suit, stating it was “frivolous” among many other reasons.

The matter came before the court for oral in-person arguments on May 19 concerning four motions.

In the first Motion to Dismiss “by City of Wilmington and related Defendants”, the judge cited several legal precedents/issues with the allegations — as he did with all four motions — and dismissed the complaint/amended complaint “as to the City of Wilmington, the Wilmington Fire Department, the Wilmington Police Department, Wilmington City Prosecutor Dave Henry, Wilmington City Law Director Brett Rudduck, Wilmington Police Chief Ron Cravens, Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth, Wilmington City Council Members Jonathan McKay, Michael Snarr, Kristi Fickert, Matt Purkey, Kelsey Swindler, Bill Liermann, Nick Eveland, Mark McKay, and the Wilmington Fire Department” [which was listed twice].

In the second motion — “Motion to Strike on behalf of the Clinton County defendants” — the court ruled the motion to dismiss is granted “as to these Defendants: Sheriff Ralph Pfizer [sic], Sheriff Deputy Brian Prickett, Deputy Elliot Sylvester, Deputy Thomas Couch, Deputy Terry Meehan, Deputy Morgan Wages, Deputy Doug Eastes, Detective Robert Gates, Maj. Brett Prickett, Prosecutor Andrew McCoy, Assistant Prosecutor John Kaspar, Investigator Stephen Payne, Commissioner Kerry Steed, Commissioner Brenda Woods, and Commissioner Mike McCarty.”

The third motion — a “Motion to Dismiss” — was filed by the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center as well as three individually named representatives from that organization, Morgan Kleinholz, Brianna Schulz, and Alexandra Fender.”

The court granted the motion and the four defendants were dismissed.

The fourth motion was filed on April 5 “on behalf of defendants Gary Garrison, Marvin Corbin, and Arlene Soto, all of whom are presently or previously employed by the Clinton County coroner’s office.” That motion was granted.

The plaintiff(s) have the right to appeal Monday’s ruling.

Back story

The family of Marvin Napier Sr. alleged his death was caused by law enforcement and that the incident and investigations were “whitewashed.”

The plaintiffs allege that Napier, 60, died due to his treatment by law enforcement on Nov. 25, 2019 at approximately 1:47 a.m.

The plaintiffs had sued the above-named combination of entities and individuals — some directly involved in the initial incident, some involved in the investigation afterward and in the autopsy, and others whose only apparent involvement either directly or indirectly with the incident or the investigation is that they were contacted by the plaintiff(s) asking for additional probes of the incident and of the investigation.

The plaintiffs of the 167-page suit filed in December in Clinton County Common Pleas Court were listed as Faith Mclemore, Mary Napier, Devin Napier, and “Marvin Andrew Napier, Jr. (Involuntary Plaintiff-deceased).”

The City of Wilmington and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office in December each filed motions to dismiss for various reasons including:

• The city called it a “frivolous lawsuit” which “fails to allege a civil rights violation and it fails to connect any violation to the City of Wilmington parties.” Those parties include the mayor, each member of city council, and a total of 15 individuals associated with the city — even though the alleged incident occurred outside of the city — apparently because a private individual(s) contacted them stating the case needed to be investigated further.

• The county called for the court to “strike the Complaint and Amended complaint as sham and false filings.”

• The non-profit Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center on behalf of three employees — a victims’ rights attorney and two victims’ rights advocates — filed their motion that plaintiffs’ suit “fails to allege a single cognizable claim against these Defendants.” It states that victims’ rights attorney Morgan Keilholz reviewed 121 pages of public documents — including the autopsy reports and the report from the forensics firm hired by the plaintiffs — and she “determined that there was insufficient evidence to determine that a victims’ rights violation occurred.”

Further probe

The News Journal reported in September 2021 that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office agreed to review the death of Napier — at the request of Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew T. McCoy.

In a letter dated Sept. 27, 2021 to Napier’s daughter regarding referring the case to the Ohio AG’s office, McCoy stated, “I need to advise that you should draw no inference from this referral that I have found any evidence of criminal conduct. I believe Mr. Moyer’s review of the case was fair and impartial. I have made this referral so that you, as the daughter of Mr. Napier, together with his family, can have confidence that any decision relating to the matter is made by a professional and experienced office outside of Clinton County.”

“Mr. Moyer” refers to former Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Richard Moyer, who died in September 2020.

Family and some community members have sought to have the case file reopened due to their belief that Napier’s death was suspicious, i.e. directly caused by law enforcement personnel.

In a March 17, 2020 letter to the sheriff’s office, Moyer wrote, “I have recently reviewed the aforementioned criminal file. I will be closing the file in our office based on the report from Montgomery County Coroner. The report indicates Mr. Napier died [due] to multiple drug intoxication (methamphetamine and amphetamine) with cardiomegaly contributing.”

The News Journal reported on Nov. 15, 2019 — 10 days before his death — that Napier was indicted by a Clinton County grand jury and he was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine and possessing methamphetamine.

Clinton County Sheriff’s Office Col. Brian Prickett told the News Journal last year, “We will let our investigative findings as well as the attorney general’s investigative finding speak for themselves as we certainly support this review by an outside agency.”

According to a Clinton County Coroner’s Office report, a sheriff’s deputy had reported Napier, of Reeder Road near Blanchester, was a passenger in a vehicle that a deputy was attempting to stop due to a traffic violation in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2019. The report states information from the CCSO that the vehicle stopped in a driveway on State Route 350 and Napier jumped out and started to run, and that “Napier became unresponsive when he was in custody.”

Deputies reported that they attempted CPR, 911 was called, and Wilmington EMS arrived but Napier could not be revived. Napier was pronounced dead at Clinton Memorial Hospital. Clinton County Coroner Ronald Seaman, M.D., was notified and ordered an autopsy. Napier’s body was transported to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office told the News Journal on Thursday that the investigation is still pending and they cannot comment further.



By Tom Barr

[email protected]

The court’s entire six-page ruling is online at wnewsj.com .