By Tammy Watts
DARKE COUNTY — Union City, Ohio, Police Chief Mark Ater has filed a defamation lawsuit against former Darke County Sheriff Toby Spencer. The suit alleges that Spencer made knowingly false statements about Ater’s criminal, voting, and legal records in a letter to the editor, published by the Versailles Policy on Apr. 27, 2022.
At the time, Ater was vying for the Republican nomination for Darke County Sheriff, a contest won by current Darke County Sheriff Mark Whittaker.
In his letter to the Versailles Policy, Spencer stated that during his time as Darke County Sheriff, he ran background checks, including criminal, civil, and personal, to ensure that individuals were free from federal, state, and local charges, as well as bad debts. He then claimed, “we have a candidate in this race that fails all these checks in a concerning way,” adding that Ater had never voted as a Darke County resident.
Ater’s complaint asserts that the statements made in Spencer’s letter are “demonstrably false,” and “conflict with all criminal history checks, court records, and voting records.” The complaint also noted that the letter had been digitally uploaded to Facebook, and shared by Spencer, who has since deleted his Facebook account.
In Spencer’s motion to dismiss, he countered, “This case involves a political candidate’s attempt to recover a financial windfall for his failed primary bid for Sheriff of Darke County, by blaming his election loss on an alleged single critical letter to the editor published in a local newspaper.”
Ater’s response to Spencer’s motion reiterated that defamatory and libelous statements are not protected opinions, citing several historical Ohio court decisions as precedent. Furthermore, the letter was shared numerous times on social media, enabling it to reach several thousand Darke County citizens, not just readers of the Versailles Policy.
“I just want people to know it’s not about money, and it’s not about the election. It’s the fact that he [Spencer] stated lies, and it’s the principle,” Ater said.
Ater is seeking compensation of no less than $25,000 “plus punitive damages and reasonable legal fees.”
Spencer did not respond to The Daily Advocate’s request for comment.
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected].