The Coastal Star

Ocean Ridge: Depositions in Lucibella felony case set for late August

By Steve Plunkett

    The lawyer in the felony case against former Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella has rescheduled depositions of town officials and the police for late August.
Defense attorney Marc Shiner will depose arresting officers Nubia Plesnik and Richard Ermeri and since-retired Sgt. William Hallahan on Aug. 21, along with Police Chief Hal Hutchins, dispatcher Courtney Hammond, Lt. Richard Jones and Town Manager Jamie Titcomb.
    On Aug. 28 Shiner plans to depose current Vice Mayor James Bonfiglio, Mayor Geoff Pugh, Town Commissioner Steve Coz, former police Lt. Steven Wohlfiel and Kim Hutchins, the chief’s wife.
    Lucibella faces a felony charge of resisting arrest with violence; after reviewing the case the State Attorney’s Office added a felony charge of battery on a law enforcement officer. The battery charge covers Ermeri only; the resisting arrest with violence covers Ermeri “and/or N. Plesnik,” the charging document says.
Lucibella also is charged with misdemeanor use of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
    Plesnik, Ermeri and Hallahan went to Lucibella’s home Oct. 22 after neighbors reported hearing gunfire. They confiscated a .40-caliber handgun and found five spent shell casings on the backyard patio.
    Wohlfiel, their supervisor, was with Lucibella, and both men were “obviously intoxicated,” the police said. Officers later determined the confiscated handgun belonged to Wohlfiel.
    
Lucibella gets summons for officer’s civil lawsuit
Meanwhile, the man who delivered Lucibella’s copy of Officer Plesnik’s lawsuit claiming battery and negligence waited a month to notify the court that the summons had been served.
    In a document filed July 22, process server Christopher Marxen said he delivered the legal papers to Lucibella at his Beachway North home at 9:05 p.m. June 22.
Lucibella said he welcomed Marxen at his back gate.
“I bet you don’t often get someone who asks to be served,” Lucibella said.
In her lawsuit, Plesnik says Lucibella intentionally pushed and injured her, causing pain and disability, among other things.
    Her lawyer, Richard Slinkman, said Plesnik can perform the functions and duties of a police officer but continues to feel pain in her shoulder, even at work.
    West Palm Beach lawyer David Drahos is defending Lucibella in the civil lawsuit. Lucibella has a $10 million insurance policy against personal liability.
    Lucibella did not sound concerned about the legal action. “I find it rather comical — that’s my comment,” he said.
    During the arrest, Lucibella was pinned to his backyard patio pavers and suffered injuries to his face and ribs.  Shiner has said the officers overreacted.
    His trial, originally set for April, is now scheduled for October. Judge Charles Burton anticipates it will take four weeks.
    Lucibella resigned as vice mayor and town commissioner in December.

Town fights ex-lieutenant’s request for hearing
Ocean Ridge is fighting a request by Wohlfiel that a judge order the town manager to hold an evidentiary hearing before Wohlfiel can be fired.
    “Wohlfiel has failed to demonstrate that there was a ministerial duty to provide a quasi-judicial hearing before the town manager after receipt of a notice of termination letter,” attorney Lyman Reynolds said in a filing on behalf of Ocean Ridge in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
    Reynolds, who is paid by the town’s insurance company, said Wohlfiel’s request is improper because he was not “peremptorily” suspended.
    “As the memo from the chief to Wohlfiel states, he was ‘placed on administrative leave with pay until further notice.’ It was not a disciplinary action,” Reynolds argues.
    Chief Hutchins opened an internal investigation of Wohlfiel’s role in the incident the day after Lucibella’s arrest.
Titcomb fired Wohlfiel on Jan. 4 after receiving Hutchins’ recommendation. In the termination letter, Titcomb told Wohlfiel that Ocean Ridge police officers “need to exhibit conduct above reproach.”
“I don’t feel the standard we expect for our police officers has been met by you in this case,” Titcomb wrote.
    Wohlfiel’s attorney, Ralph King of the county’s Police Benevolent Association, asked the Town Commission to review the firing in February, then asked for a postponement.
    “Wohlfiel has not requested the appeal hearing before the Town Commission be rescheduled, which the town is ready and willing to do,” Reynolds said in the filing.

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