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Man claims in suit council member threatened him

October 21, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Jefferson County man has sued Charles Town City Council member Matt Ward, claiming Ward threatened him with physical injury after the man had a letter published in a local newspaper about politicians who oppose growth, court records said.

Ward said Wednesday he has never threatened John Kusner and said the allegations are "untruthful and without merit."

Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge said his department investigated the matter but prosecutors declined to pursue any charges.

Kusner's Oct. 31, 2002 letter contained a hyperbole about local politicians who oppose growth politically, including an unidentified Charles Town City Council member, said the suit, which was filed Oct. 13 in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

Kusner's letter identified the council member as someone "who has five children and a sixth one on the way," the suit said.

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The letter said that growth happens, in part, as a result of "socially irresponsible behavior in the bedroom." The letter also states that "moderating birth rates" would be an effective way to limit growth, the suit said.

Kusner claims in his suit that Ward came to his home shortly after the letter was published and "made loud, demeaning and defamatory statements" to a woman at his house.

On July 10, Kusner was at the Jumpin Java restaurant in downtown Charles Town when he said Ward confronted him and demanded to know if he was the individual who wrote the Oct. 31 letter, the suit said.

"At that time and place, councilman Ward began shouting at Kusner and threatening him with physical injury should he ever again publish a letter identifying councilman Ward and his children in any respect whatsoever," the suit said.

The actions of Ward placed Kusner "in immediate fear of physical harm," the suit states.

Kusner suggested that the police should be called, the suit reads.

Ward asserted that the police were under his control and that the police chief was his "buddy," the suit states.

Kusner believed Ward's comments "could be understood in no other way and that he would use his governmental power and authority to seek reprisals against Kusner through police," the suit states.

Given Ward's actions, Kusner's rights to exercise his First Amendment rights "have been chilled - to say the least," according to the suit.

In his suit, Kusner is asking for a protective order or an injunction prohibiting Ward from coming to Kusner's house or prohibiting Ward to come any closer to Kusner than 50 feet. Other relief Kusner is seeking in the suit includes a declaratory judgment that Kusner's letter is protected speech.

Ward declined to comment on the suit and instead issued a statement.

Ward said there was a group of witnesses at Jumpin Java who can verify that it was Kusner who was acting improperly.

Aldridge said Wednesday that his department interviewed about 10 people as part of its investigation. After the incident at Jumpin Java, Ward, who was pushing a baby stroller, turned and walked away from Kusner, Aldridge said.

Kusner followed Ward out of the restaurant and yelled at Ward, Aldridge said. The police department's findings "did not match the scenario" that Kusner reported to police, Aldridge said.

Kusner alleged criminal assault in the case, but officials in the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office said the case did not meet the criteria for an assault charge, Aldridge said.

"And that was it," Aldridge said.

"I am stating publicly, on my honor, I have never threatened Mr. Kusner nor done anything illegal or improper toward him," Ward said in his statement.

In response to Kusner's belief that Ward would use his power to seek reprisals against him through police, Aldridge said Ward has never asked any favors of him.

"He is not a buddy, he is not a close friend," Aldridge said of Ward.

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