Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Monday, April 7, 2014
Pilot denies smuggling drugs; sues sheriff's office

A former pilot for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office Trauma Star helicopter who claimed age discrimination last year has filed a revised lawsuit placing drug smuggling allegations at the center of the dispute.

David Clark was brought on board as a reserve pilot from June 28, 2011 to Feb. 12, 2012 and during that time he applied for the chief pilot position, but was never granted the job and was later fired after he told a supervisor he sold an airplane to a person who was later arrested on drug trafficking charges, according to the lawsuit.

Clark and another man had been in the business of buying and refurbishing seized aircraft that were sold by the sheriff's office and Drug Enforcement Administration, said his attorney, Ware Cornell.

Neither man was ever involved in drug trafficking, Cornell told The Citizen.

Sheriff Rick Ramsay and Sheriff's Office Aviation Division Director Brooks Bateman are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit cites an October 2011 memorandum between Bateman and Sheriff's Office Director of Human Resources Donna Moore regarding an alleged conversation between Bateman and Clark:

"During a telephonic conversation with Clark, he stated that he along with (his business partner) would acquire, fix-up, refuel to capacity and sell aircraft to the 'smugglers' and in return receive paper grocery bags full of money. According to Clark, this was not a one-time event," the lawsuit states.

Bateman stated in another memo dated August 2012 that, "I found this very disturbing for someone seeking a position with a law enforcement agency," according to the lawsuit.

Cornell put the allegation in this context: "It's like he (Clark) worked at Burger King and someone asked him if ever abetted a drug smuggler? And he responded that he may have sold one a Whopper once. That's what's happening here."

Compounding the problem, Cornell argues, is that memo between Bateman and Moore became public record as part of Clark's personnel file, which has impacted his ability to find public employment elsewhere.

Additionally, once that allegation was made, Clark should have been granted a hearing and allowed due process to clear his name prior to his termination, but Cornell argues no such hearing was done.

Sheriff's Office lawyer Patrick McCullah declined to comment stating he had not fully reviewed the revised lawsuit.

Cornell decided to change the focus of Clark's complaint from age discrimination to the drug trafficking allegation while interviewing people involved in Clark's firing, he said.

"Once I began depositions (interviews) I realized the real case here was regarding the drug smuggling issue," Cornell said.

Clark is seeking punitive damages against Bateman and Ramsay, Cornell said.

There was no trial date set as of last week.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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