Claremore Daily Progress

February 13, 2014

Federal judge declines to dismiss entire Singer suit

Trial on 1st Amendment complaint set for April 21

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell Wednesday denied a motion by District Attorney Janice Steidley and her former top assistant to dismiss Claremore Police Detective John Singer’s complaint that they retaliated against him for criticizing the DA’s performance in office. 
But the judge did grant a motion by Steidley and M. Bryce Lair, who resigned as first assistant DA in December, to dismiss Singer’s claim that they had libeled, slander and defamed him by accusing him of perjury in a 2011 sexual abuse case investigation.
Singer sued Steidley and Lair in federal court a year ago after they informed local police officials and others that Singer had not been truthful in reporting the suspect in the abuse case confessed to digitally raping a 16-year-old girl against her will.
Singer contended the district attorney’s office manufactured evidence against him, then reported to police, court and defense attorneys that he could not be trusted to testify truthfully in cases he had investigated. 
He said the accusations of misconduct violated his First Amendment right to free speech - to wit, his right to criticize the district attorney and her assistant - and also besmirched his reputation within the justice system and with the public. 
Judge Frizzell agreed the evidence in the case sufficiently supported a trial on the First Amendment complaint, but that Singer had failed to show he’d been defamed because a thorough review of the rape case confirmed the opinion of the district attorney office’s that his sworn statements about the suspect’s confession were not accurate.
Steidley said at the time she was required to report Singer’s inaccurate statements made in a search warrant and arrest affidavits under the U.S. Supreme Court’s so-called Giglio rule requiring disclosure to the defendants of misconduct by police or others in criminal cases. 
Singer claimed he did nothing wrong and that the suspect’s videotaped statements made to him during an interview established that the suspect had digitally raped the teenage girl against her will even if he didn’t say so in exactly those words. Singer also said the perjury accusation against him was made months after the rape case testimony dispute and in retaliation for his strong criticism of the district attorney’s office for its handling of criminal prosecutions, including several cases resulting from a major drug bust that received prominent coverage in the Claremore Daily Progress.
Judge Frizzell found merit in that argument, writing: “Based on the 18-month interlude between the emergence of the alleged Giglio issue and defendants’ disclosure of the issue, Singer’s mounting criticism of the DA’s office during that same period, and the temporal proximity between the Claremore newspaper article and defendant’s disclosures, a reasonable jury could conclude that defendants’ disclosures were substantially motivated by Singer’s criticism of their performance in the district attorney’s office.”
The judge scheduled April 21 as the trial date for the First Amendment retaliation complaint in Singer’s lawsuit. 
Chad Neuens, Singer’s attorney, said his client was “excited that his story will finally be heard by a jury. We look forward to trying this case.”
DA Steidley was contacted for comment on the judge’s ruling but did not respond by press deadline.