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Sheriff's candidate faces new lawsuit

The attorney for a man who brought a federal lawsuit against Mower County sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Ellis denied Friday it was politically motivated.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, alleges Ellis and his canine partner, Tazer, used unnecessary and excessive force while arresting Peter Alan Vought in July 2007.

Ellis is challenging incumbent Sheriff Terese Amazi in Tuesday's election.

"We gave (Ellis) notice of claim the first or second of September in order for them to respond, to work toward a settlement," said Duane Kennedy, of Kennedy Law Office in Rochester.

"He had written notice a month and a half ago, and we didn't hear anything back from his attorney — not a letter, not a phone call," he said. "He wasn't blind-sided by this, not at all."


The fact that the suit comes three years after the incident that sparked the case isn't unusual either, said Kennedy, who is representing Vought, 47, of Owatonna.

Vought is essentially a transient, the attorney said.

According to the original complaint against Vought, a couple claimed he had broken into an apartment and slashed at a man's legs with a knife and threatened to kill both of them.

Vought fled when police arrived, so Ellis and Tazer were called to track and apprehend him.

Vought was convicted in 2008 of fifth-degree assault and terroristic threats in the incident.

As part of the lawsuit against Ellis, Kennedy claims Vought's civil rights were violated when Ellis allowed Tazer to bite him. Vought allegedly suffered puncture wounds to the upper thigh and buttocks when he was apprehended.

No mention of Vought's injuries were made in the original criminal complaint against him.

According to his lawsuit, however, Vought "suffered serious, permanent injuries and, since July 4, 2007, has suffered and continues to suffer special damages including medical costs, as a direct and proximate result of the illegal seizure and excessive force used against him by Ellis in violation of his constitutional rights."


In addition, Kennedy said, "he's seriously mentally ill — so he shouldn't have been bit by a police dog."

Ellis will be represented by Jason Hiveley, who represented him on a similar claim from 2007 to 2009. A jury found Ellis not guilty in that case.

Amazi called the lawsuit "a baseless claim" Friday morning, and also questioned its timing.

"Definitely, the time frame would be suspicious on the part of the (filing) attorney," she said.

"I would hope this is dismissed, and it works out in the court in Jeff's and the county's favor," Amazi said.

Vought is seeking damages in excess of $75,000 for mental anguish, pain and suffering and humiliation.

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