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Watertown denies any wrongdoing in arrest by city officer

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WATERTOWN — The city denies one of its police officers did anything wrong when he charged a man with harassment following a traffic dispute.

The city is asking that a federal lawsuit filed in February by Donald W. Mott be dismissed, according to a response to the suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Mr. Mott, Watertown, filed action against the police department and one of its officers, Mark A. Lamica, claiming that he was falsely arrested Sept. 29, 2012, after being involved in what Mr. Mott contends was a case of mutual road rage between him and another motorist, Dustin M. Houppert, Watertown, who was not charged with a crime.

The dispute began at a four-way intersection at Sherman and Mullin streets, where Mr. Houppert allegedly passed a stop sign out of turn, causing Mr. Mott and a third, uninvolved motorist to slam on their brakes. After a series of brief exchanges between Mr. Mott and Mr. Houppert, Mr. Mott followed Mr. Houppert’s vehicle to Coffeen Street, but stopped at VanDuzee Street. Mr. Mott claims he encountered Mr. Houppert a short time later near the Fairgrounds Y, at which time Mr. Mott claims Mr. Houppert threatened him and told Mr. Mott to follow him to Jefferson Community College, where Mr. Houppert was a student and Mr. Mott an adjunct instructor.

The pair met with security guards, who took statements from both men. Later that day or the next, Officer Lamica came to Mr. Mott’s home to discuss the matter and ask if Mr. Mott wanted to press charges. He said he did not “because he believed the matter had been defused” and said he would bring charges only if Mr. Houppert pursued the matter. He said he spoke to Officer Lamica for less than two minutes, but two weeks later the officer arrived at his home to arrest him for alleged harassment, a charge that was dismissed in City Court six months later.

Mr. Mott claims, among other things, the matter was never fully investigated, as the officer did not interview Mr. Mott’s girlfriend, Modesta Geyer, who was in the back seat of his vehicle during the encounter with Mr. Houppert. He further claims that the security guard at JCC who took his statement “is on the same sports team” as Mr. Houppert and may have encouraged Mr. Houppert to file a more detailed statement than the one Mr. Mott was afforded.

In a response filed by City Attorney Robert J. Slye, the city concedes that the harassment charge was dismissed, but counters that the “charge was not dismissed on its merits.” Instead, the city maintains the charge was merged with separate, pre-existing charges of criminal contempt and disorderly conduct. Mr. Mott pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in satisfaction of all charges.

The city agrees that Officer Lamica was unaware of Ms. Geyer’s presence in the vehicle and never interviewed her, but argues that the officer “acted in good faith and is entitled to absolute or qualified immunity” in the matter. The city further maintains that the arrest was pursuant to a warrant obtained by Officer Lamica from City Court.

Besides dismissing suit, the city is asking that Mr. Mott be liable for the city’s costs in defending the action. Mr. Mott is represented by Sackets Harbor attorney Charu Narang.

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