By Tammy Watts

DARKE COUNTY — Union City, Ohio, Police Chief Mark Ater has filed a libel suit against former Darke County Sheriff Toby Spencer. The lawsuit alleges that Spencer knowingly made false statements about Ater’s criminal, electoral and criminal background in a letter to the editor, published by the Politics of Versailles April 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 Politics of Versailles, Spencer said that during his tenure as Darke County Sheriff, he conducted background checks, including criminal, civil and personal, to ensure individuals were clear of federal, state and local charges, as well than bad debts. He then claimed, “we have a candidate in this race who fails all of those checks in a disturbing way,” adding that Ater had never voted as a Darke County resident.

Ater’s complaint claims statements made in Spencer’s letter are “patently untrue” and “conflict with all criminal background checks, court records and voting records.” The complaint also noted that the letter was digitally uploaded to Facebook and shared by Spencer, who has since deleted her Facebook account.

In Spencer’s motion to dismiss, he countered, “This case involves a political candidate’s attempt to recoup a financial windfall for his failed primary bid for Darke County Sheriff, blaming his election loss on an alleged single critical letter to the editor published in a local newspaper.”

Ater’s response to Spencer’s petition reiterated that defamatory and slanderous statements are not protected opinions, citing several landmark Ohio court decisions as precedents. Additionally, the letter was shared numerous times on social media, allowing it to reach several thousand Darke County citizens, not just readers of the Versailles Policy.

“I just want people to know that it’s not about the money, and it’s not about the election. It is the fact that he [Spencer] outspoken lies, and that’s the principle,” Ater said.

Ater is seeking compensation of at least $25,000 “plus punitive damages and reasonable legal fees.”

Spencer did not respond to The Daily Lawyer request for comment.

Contact Daily Advocate reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected]


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