The owners of a Maine car dealership are suing their city’s police department, saying two officers spread false information that the business was a front for selling drugs.
The lawsuit does not say whether or how far the misinformation spread beyond two people named in the filing, and it doesn’t specify whether the comments caused any financial damage to the dealership.
William and Patrick Donahue are a father-and-son team who own Five Star Auto Sales on Route 111. They filed their complaint against the city of Biddeford, the police department, Chief Roger Beaupre, and two individual officers this fall in Cumberland County Superior Court, and the case moved this week to the U.S. District Court of Maine. Their claims include defamation, business disparagement and state and federal civil rights violations. The Donahues referred questions about the lawsuit to their lawyer.
“Bill Donahue has spent 40 years building an excellent reputation as an important business person in Maine,” said attorney Jeffrey Bennett, who represents the owners. “He has worked hard to have a legacy for his children, and this really damages that.”
Beaupre said he would not speak about the case on the advice of the city’s lawyer. He also said the two officers – Victor Parker and Shawn Cloutier – have not been disciplined in connection with these claims.
Attorney John Wall, who is representing the department, also said he could not discuss the merits of the case.
“There’s never been any connection with any underground activity ever,” Bennett said. “That’s why they brought the lawsuit because it was that shocking and inappropriate.”
The complaint described two incidents in late 2018 but does not include much detail. On one occasion, one or both officers allegedly told Mirjana Cloutier that the Donahues “are drug dealers and their business (is) a front for drug dealing and said person(s) should stay away,” the complaint said. On another, one or both officers told Randy Nelson that the Donahues “are dishonest” and that he should not do business with them.
Bennett said the officers were on duty when they made those comments about the dealership, and those two people told the Donahues about their conversations. But he did not know if the comments had been recorded or how the dealership came up in those discussions. He also wasn’t sure if similar comments had been made to other people or if sales at the dealership had been impacted by the police officers’ statements. He said he hoped to answer those questions through the discovery process.
“What I’m focused on is, who else was told the same thing, not only directly by the police personnel but also by citizens who received this information from police?” Bennett said. “In other words, how far did this misinformation extend through the community?”
The city had a Monday deadline to file an answer to the complaint.