PARIS — A firearms dealer has filed a lawsuit against the town of Fryeburg, its police chief and two officers, claiming his reputation was damaged by an investigation into whether officers bought private weapons with town money.
Brownfield firearms dealer Vincent A. Pestilli and his employee, Deborah Tait, filed the suit against police Chief Philip A. Weymouth, Lt. Michael S. McAllister, Cpl. Richard W. Murray III and the inhabitants of the town of Fryeburg.
The lawsuit says that Weymouth began an investigation into the misconduct of a police officer in September 2008, which grew to include investigating whether McAllister and Murray used town funds to buy firearms for private use.
The suit claims Weymouth concluded in a report to the Board of Selectmen that Tait sold weapons to the officers, but according to the suit, the “Class III firearms … are licensed through the ATF, all taxes paid and licensing fees from their own money, with no departmental letterhead used."
Pestilli is a Class III firearms dealer, and can buy and sell automatic weapons subject to regulation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Class III weapons are fully automatic firearms, Pestilli said, adding that the report implies the business unlawfully sold such guns for private use.
Pestilli says Tait sold Bushmaster semiautomatic rifles to McAllister in 2007 and to Murray in 2005.
Pestilli claims the chief's report alleges a violation of federal laws and that it harmed the reputation of the company in the public, business and law enforcement communities.
The lawsuit charges Weymouth, McAllister and Murray with intentional or reckless defamation, saying the police department made false statements with “actual or implied malice” toward the business. It also charges McAllister and Murray with negligent defamation, saying they failed to “use reasonable care to ascertain the truth or falsity of the statements they made to Weymouth.” It says the town and Weymouth have not issued a public retraction of the statement, and asks the court to order one.
Pestilli has owned the business since 1978; it sells firearms to dealers, distributors and law enforcement agencies, and provides firearms training for police departments, according to the suit.
The lawsuit does not name the police officer initially investigated for misconduct. However, officer Ian Tait was put on unpaid leave at the end of September 2008 and was terminated after Weymouth determined that he engaged in misconduct such as accepting a gratuity, inappropriate text messaging, issuing joke summonses and speeding.
Ian Tait is Deborah Tait's husband.
Attorney Robert Hark says he will file a response on behalf of the town by the end of next week.
“We believe that there are many very substantial misstatements in the complaint, and that the complaint takes a great deal out of context,” Hark said. “There's a great deal in the complaint that we do not feel to be at all accurate.”