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Fired Carroll County prosecutor sues paper

A senior Carroll County prosecutor fired last week following newspaper reports and an editorial that said he gave false testimony about a homicide investigation has filed a $1 million defamation suit against the publication.

David P. Daggett, through his attorney, alleges the Carroll County Times erroneously reported he had falsely testified at a March 5 court hearing that police had not called him after they found Jeremiah DeMario fatally stabbed outside his Hampstead apartment about two years ago.

In its reporting, the newspaper cited telephone records showing that police had called Daggett, the county’s chief deputy state’s attorney. The newspaper also published an editorial April 29 calling for a “thorough housecleaning” by the Sheriff’s Department and the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office, which Daggett’s lawsuit characterizes as “suggesting to the reader that Mr. Daggett should be removed from his position.”

State’s Attorney Jerry F. Barnes fired Daggett after Daggett declined to resign, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Carroll County Circuit Court.

Daggett, in the lawsuit, claims the newspaper reports were wrong because he never testified that police had not called him. Rather, Daggett says he truthfully testified “not to my knowledge, no” in response to the prosecution’s question of whether he had received a call from a police officer “with questions about” the slaying due to his advisory role as deputy state’s attorney.

In that call, Sgt. Jay Prise of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, simply apprised Daggett of the killing and did not ask questions, his attorney, James B. Astrachan, stated in the complaint.

Astrachan added the news articles and editorial defamed Daggett and put him in a “false light” by essentially accusing him of having committed perjury. The newspaper could have, but apparently did not, verify its reporting by reviewing the hearing transcript, the attorney wrote.

The Carroll County Times published the articles and editorial with “knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard as to their truth,” the filing said.

Besides costing Daggett his job, the articles “tend to expose [him] to public scorn, contempt or ridicule, thereby discouraging others in the community from having a good opinion of, or associating with, him,” the lawsuit states. Daggett “has suffered, and continues to suffer, material and on-going harm and damage to his professional and personal reputation, humiliation, anger, anxiety and depression, as well as financial losses.”

He seeks damages of “not less than” $1 million, according to the lawsuit.

“How does a man recover his reputation?” Astrachan said in his only public comment on the lawsuit Monday.

He is with Astrachan Gunst Thomas Rubin PC in Baltimore.

Pat Richardson, publisher of the Carroll County Times, said in an email message that she would have “no comment” on the lawsuit.

“We have not been served on this matter,” she added.

Barnes, the state’s attorney, declined to comment on Daggett’s departure, citing the lawsuit and ongoing state probes of county law enforcement’s handling of the DeMario investigation.

“I really can’t have any comment,” he said.

Daggett did not return a telephone message seeking comment Monday.

Daggett’s lawsuit centers on diverse interpretations of his March 5 testimony at a court hearing for Cassandra Glover, who, with Russell Scott Laderer, was charged in the death of DeMario.

Laderer faced a first-degree murder charge and Glover was charged with obstructing police and being an accessory after the fact. Barnes dropped the charges March 12, citing a lack of admissible evidence.

The Carroll County Times, in three articles between April 25 and May 3, reported that Daggett testified he had not been called by the police — despite phone records to the contrary — after DeMario’s body was discovered Sept. 14, 2010. Identical headlines on two of those stories, dated April 25 and May 2, read “Deputy state’s attorney in Carroll County gave false testimony, records show.”

Daggett, in his lawsuit, said his testimony addressed not whether he spoke to a police investigator but if he had been asked questions by him.

“Sgt. Prise did not telephone Mr. Daggett for the purpose of seeking legal advice and sought none, and did not ask Mr. Daggett any questions regarding the crime, its investigation, or any other manner of subjects related there to,” Daggett’s complaint stated. “Instead, the call was a perfunctory telephone call simply to inform Mr. Daggett of the DeMario homicide — a standard practice in Carroll County law enforcement, as Mr. Daggett testified to at the hearing.”