FRONT ROYAL – A case of he said, she said has broken out in local courts.
Five months after Warren County Board of Supervisors member Tom Sayre filed a civil defamation suit against Jennifer McDonald, former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority executive director, she followed suit.
McDonald filed a civil defamation suit against Sayre on Tuesday in Warren County Circuit Court. Sayre’s case was filed in Warren County General District Court in September.
Both lawsuits center around a June 15, 2017, incident in which a rock was thrown through the front door of McDonald’s house. A note was found in her front yard that listed a series of instructions on how to perform the crime. Also listed were two phone numbers, one of which was Sayre’s.
McDonald was later charged on a misdemeanor count of filing a false police report in relation to the incident because a criminal complaint states she knew about the incident before it happened. The case was dismissed because Judge Dale Houff said sufficient evidence to convict was not presented.
The prosecution’s key witness was local reporter Roger Bianchini, who testified that McDonald told him of the incident before it happened. He relayed that same sentiment to Front Royal Police Department investigators on June 16, 2017, while being interviewed regarding a break-in and vandalism at the EDA’s Kendrick Lane office.
Lee E. Berlik, McDonald’s lawyer, states in the filing that Bianchini, however, testified “that he had been drinking the night before he spoke to police, and that he could have been mistaken.” In court, Bianchini testified that he had two or three light beers the night before the police interview. Berlik also notes that Bianchini testified that his “train of thought derails frequently.”
No one has since been charged with any crime relating to the incident.
Berlik states that Sayre, upon learning that his number was at the crime scene and that he was a suspect, spread rumors that McDonald threw the rock and planted the note to frame him. Berlik states that Sayre told this to “anyone who will listen.” Berlik adds that Sayre knew he was spreading false information and states that if Sayre “actually believed” what he said, there was no “reasonable basis for such belief.”
Berlik states that the false claims severely damaged McDonald’s reputation and caused “a great deal of emotional distress and anguish.” The filing states that McDonald is seeking $250,000 for “injury to reputation, humiliation, insult and embarrassment” and $350,000 in punitive damages. The filing also asks that a permanent injunction be entered against Sayre prohibiting “him and his agents and assigns” from continuing to spread false statements about the incident.
Sayre’s defamation lawsuit alleges that McDonald did indeed attempt to frame him. That filing states that he “lost significant sleep, suffered acute anxiety, could not focus at work, sought counseling from his Priest, spent countless hours seeking to clear his name and repair damage to his reputation.” It states that McDonald attempted to frame him for a crime because he inquired about the EDA’s workforce housing project. He is seeking $25,000 in damages.
Sayre said over the phone Thursday that he did not know about the lawsuit and that he would have to see the filing before commenting. McDonald on Thursday declined to comment via a Facebook message and said any questions should be directed to Berlik.
The next hearing in Sayre’s defamation suit against McDonald is March 20 while a date has not been set for a hearing in McDonald’s defamation suit against Sayre.