Tallahassee Democrat | by CD Davidson-Hiers | November 11, 2020
Former Lincoln High School boys’ basketball coach Dimitric Salters, arrested by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office on fraud and other charges in 2017, now is suing for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution.
The reason: He says he was caught in the political crossfire of current Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna and Hanna’s predecessor, Jackie Pons.
Salters filed his civil lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee last month against Hanna, the county school system and State Attorney Jack Campbell, the area’s elected top prosecutor.
“At their root, the wrongful arrest and prosecution derives from (Salters’) support and commitment to former Superintendent Jackie Pons,” the lawsuit says.
On Tuesday, Hanna told a reporter he didn’t understand why the ex-coach would sue the district “considering he was charged with stealing monies that were supposed to be deposited in a school’s account.” The criminal case against Salters, who has pleaded not guilty, is still pending.
Lawsuit alleges ‘severe injuries’
Among Salters’ demands is payment for “chronic, egregious, culpable and intentional acts resulting in negligence and severe injuries,” resulting from his arrest. (His filed complaint is at bottom.)
In March 2017, deputies arrested Salters on charges of organized scheme to defraud, grand theft and forgery, according to court records. He was released from jail on $7,500 bail.
The previous January, the Leon County school district placed Salters on administrative leave after Lincoln Principal Allen Burch reported financial irregularities in the basketball program’s records.
An investigation into the missing funds alleged that Salters had deposited $13,000 intended for the high school basketball team into a personal account, in addition to other financial incongruencies.
But the lawsuit says the charges against Salters were motivated by district politics, not actual wrongdoing. The suit alleges Hanna punished Salters for taking the Lincoln basketball team to the state championship since Salters was hired by Pons.
In 2016, Pons and Hanna had a fierce race for the superintendent position, which has resulted in a simmering but years-long feud.
Building upon this contentious relationship, the suit also alleges that Ricky Bell, the district’s director of athletics, was attempting to void Lincoln High School’s basketball season victories with what the suit calls “false allegations” of recruiting and sanctions because of Bell’s ties to Hanna.
“These false and salacious misuses of authority and power were intended to and was effective in harming (Salters) and Lincoln High Basketball and its players,” the complaint says. “This abuse cries out for justice.”
In all, Dimitric Salter deposited more than $13,000 meant for the basketball team. He was arrested Wednesday on charges of fraud, grand theft and passing a forged document by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. Leon County Jail
Questioning authority to investigate
Another allegation against the state attorney says that Campbell’s “ties to the local establishment in Leon County” led to his “unwillingness to admit to the wrongful arrest and prosecution.”
Still another allegation says that Leon Schools’ Chief of Safety and Security John Hunkiar did not have the legal authority to conduct an investigation.
Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, confirmed previously to the Tallahassee Democrat that the district’s department is considered a law enforcement agency and Hunkiar is a certified law enforcement officer.
Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor in 2018 advocated on Salters’ behalf, accusing Hanna of launching what he called an “illegal investigation” into Salters, resulting in a “sloppy, unbelievable kind of mess.”
This June, he also filed a letter (see below) with the court, asking for the case to be dismissed and for Salters to be relieved of “his ordeal and entanglement (in) Southern style-justice.”
Salters was not reappointed to his position in 2017, district spokesman Chris Petley said.
The former coach is represented by Doral-based attorney Richard Collins.