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Manhattan Beach Police Officer Sues City for Libel Damages

January 26, 1986|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

A Manhattan Beach police sergeant who was relieved from street duty after he allegedly made threats against defendants in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case has filed a $10-million lawsuit against the city.

The officer, William Sapp, contends in the suit filed in Torrance Superior Court that he was libeled when City Atty. Carl K. Newton sent a letter to McMartin defense attorneys in June, 1985, stating that Sapp "has uttered a threat that he may do great bodily harm to the defendants in the McMartin case."

Sapp, who was assigned to desk duty and had his weapon taken away after the alleged incident, was later returned to patrol duty after a city investigation determined that the statements uttered by Sapp "did not constitute the making of a personal threat," according to a copy of a second letter sent by Newton to the defense attorneys and filed with the lawsuit.

Sapp, who had a child who attended the preschool, allegedly made the comments during a meeting with prosecutors in May, according to his attorney, Owen Petersen. Petersen said that at the meeting, prosecutors informed Sapp that they were dismissing a number of charges against the defendants, including those that were based on allegations made by Sapp's child, Petersen said.

Petersen said that Sapp, when informed by prosecutors of their decision, told them, in essence, that people in the community would be unhappy. At no time did Sapp make any threats against the McMartin defendants, the attorney said.

Newton said on Thursday that he had not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit, and therefore would not comment on it. City Manager David J. Thompson said he, too, had not seen a copy of the suit, but was "surprised. From what I can remember of the case, it does not seem like viable litigation."

Besides the city attorney and city manager, the suit names former Police Chief Harry L. Kuhlmeyer and Los Angeles County as defendants. The suit seeks damages for libel, slander and emotional distress for Sapp, his wife and their five children.

The suit was filed five days after the Los Angeles district attorney's office dismissed charges against all but two of the seven McMartin defendants. The two remaining defendants are Raymond Buckey, 27, and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 59.

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