Judge dismisses lawsuit over ‘racist’ text messages

An ex-Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office detective sued his ex-wife for disclosing the texts.

The civil suit brought by former Detective Michael Sollenberger against Sollenberger’s ex-wife Jennifer, her friend Dannielle Estridge — who captured information from one of Sollenberger’s phones — Plummer and sheriff’s office employees David Parin, Bryan Cavender and Tony Hutson was dismissed Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rose.

Rose granted the motions to dismiss all of the counts against all of the defendants, according to court documents filed in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.

“Defendants Sollenberger and Estridge’s actions were in good faith, for the benefit of the public, in light of the content of the text messages and Plaintiff Sollenberger’s role as a Detective with the Sheriff’s Office,” Rose wrote as part of a 46-page decision.

“Rather than malicious or wanton behavior, the reporting of the text messages to the NAACP and later cooperation with the Sheriff’s Office were the result of efforts to convey information of police misconduct for the betterment of the community, which is a matter of public concern.”

The suit alleged six counts of wrongdoing, including invasion of privacy and others related to the unauthorized use of property and unreasonable search and seizure.

Sollenberger, a 19½-year veteran, and 17-year former Capt. Tom Flanders were fired a year ago for allegedly exchanging dozens of racially insensitive text messages that disparaged and ridiculed black co-workers, President Barack Obama and others. Three other employees received suspensions that ranged from three to 30 days.

Messages seeking comment were not returned from attorneys representing the plaintiff and the defendants.

In December 2014, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office received and reviewed 105-copied pages of text messages from the Dayton Unit of the NAACP.

Rose ruled that the sheriff’s review of the information was reasonable “because law enforcement is permitted to review evidence presented to them by private, third parties.”

One of Sollenberger’s claims was that his ex-wife and her friend possessed his old phone without his knowledge or consent.

But Rose wrote that “the facts as alleged support the assertion that Sheriff Defendants’ could have reasonably concluded Defendant Sollenberger’s consent to the search was valid because the old phone was abandoned, as it was left behind at Defendant Sollenberger’s residence when he moved out, the phone remained there for an extended period, and the phone did not contain any sort of password protection.”

A 94-page sheriff’s office internal investigation spelled out how the text messages came to light. The texts were exchanged between November 2011 and January 2013.

Sollenberger, who worked for four years in internal affairs, and Flanders were terminated for insubordination and ethical conduct, according to Plummer.

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