Wayne City Manager Lisa Nocerini has filed a civil suit demanding damages in excess of $25,000 as compensation for alleged actions of Christopher Sanders during his tenure on the Wayne City Council.
The suit alleges the damages were incurred during Sanders' term on the council from November 2015 until a recall election in May 2018. That designation could, according to attorneys representing Sanders, place financial responsibility for defending the claim and the obligation for any financial damages which could be awarded, on the cash-strapped city.
In the suit, Nocerini claims that Sanders, 52, and Wayne resident Jimmie Lee Chandler conspired and made a false report of a felony to the Wayne Police Department after stealing her keys and planting a starter pistol and drug paraphernalia in her car on Oct. 16, 2017.
She claims that Sanders paid Chandler $500 to conspire against her by planting the items and then reporting the crimes to the police. Chandler did make such a report but Nocerini was never stopped by police and alleges she found the items in her car two days later on Oct. 18, 2017. She claims she contacted law enforcement and the investigation was referred to the Michigan State Police. State investigators closed the case in June of 2018 with no charges filed. Nocerini subsequently retained legal counsel and hired a private investigator that month in a successful effort to have the investigation reopened by state police.
Chandler was arrested on an unconnected warrant and during a subsequent police interview implicated Sanders in the Nocerini investigation, claiming Sanders paid him to plant the items in Nocerini's car two years before. Both Sanders and Chandler were criminally charged on June 16, 2020 with conspiracy to file a false felony report, filing a false felony report and attempting to file a false felony report. Chandler entered a guilty plea on reduced charges and was sentenced last week to 18 months probation.
The Nocerini civil lawsuit against Sanders was filed on Oct. 15, 2020.
Sanders' legal counsel on the criminal charge, John Cahalan, has requested the city notify him of the attorney who will, at city expense, defend the civil lawsuit. Cahalan said that should Nocerini be successful in the suit, the city could be liable for any monetary damages awarded. He added that the city attorney has not responded to his phone calls or letters requesting the name of the attorney who will represent Sanders in the civil suit.
Chandler is also named as a defendant in Nocerini's lawsuit which cites an ongoing dispute between her and Sanders as the motive for the false police report. She claims that Sanders tried to impugn her reputation and have her fired from her job by falsifying emails portraying her as homophobic and that his allegations of misconduct prompted an outside investigation of her professional performance including allegations of a hostile work environment.
That confidential report dated Aug. 8, 2018 was briefly posted on social media and included interviews with 17 employees by the independent investigator. He cited multiple and serious problems with Nocerini's management and administration at city hall. In his report, the investigator said he found staff members fearful of recriminations and who were subjected to ongoing and overt discriminatory treatment. The investigator advised the city that this was a basis for serious concern as the employees believed they worked in an atmosphere where the city manager and one councilman, at that time a candidate for mayor, were aligned so strongly that employees and department heads had no recourse for equitable treatment.
In her lawsuit, however, filed by attorney Scott Ruark, Nocerini claims that she was “cleared of any wrongdoing” by the independent report. She also states that the report concluded there was no hostile working environment and that the investigation was “unethical, slanderous and resulted in Plaintiff suffering severe emotional distress.”
She further claims that Sanders interfered with her “existing and prospective economic and business relationships and expectancies” and that as a result of his conduct she has incurred damages in excess of $25,000.
Cahalan said that Sanders vehemently denies all the allegations in the criminal complaint and has demanded a jury trial in which his innocence will be clearly established.