Former city police Sgt. Jeff Senter – whose confrontation with a state legislator’s wife was caught on a dashcam video and eventually led to his firing – filed a 60-page lawsuit Tuesday against city officials and others that details their alleged romantic and sexual activities and accuses them of conspiring to have Senter fired from the public safety job he held for 12 years.
The lawsuit also details efforts by Senter and William Bailey – the city’s former public safety director – to have state Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, fired from his job at Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. because Bailey thought Edge was leaking information to the media about the city’s failed response to an April 2009 wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in the Barefoot Resort neighborhood.
Senter’s legal action contrasts a September 2009 letter he wrote to city officials in which he accepted full responsibility for his actions, said he “failed my city, command staff and officers” and called Mayor Marilyn Hatley “the prettiest mayor in the country.”
This week’s lawsuit was filed more than a month after Senter’s lawyer, Bonnie Hunt, sent letters to City Manager Mike Mahaney, Tracy Edge and his wife, Melissa, and Marilyn Hatley and her husband, David, demanding that the city and both couples pay $100,000 apiece to Senter to keep him from going public with the allegations. Hunt, in the letter, gave the city, the Hatleys and the Edges a 30-day deadline to comply with Senter’s demands. Senter also wanted to return to his job with the city, according to the letter.
Tracy Edge said the lawsuit includes “complete falsehoods” and said Hunt’s letter amounts to “extortion.”
“I never had any intention of paying him,” Tracy Edge said of Senter.
Marilyn Hatley said the letter’s demands are “legal blackmail” and it appears Senter filed the lawsuit solely in an attempt to embarrass city officials.
“It’s old news,” she said. “I don’t think Jeff Senter will get anything.”
City spokesman Pat Dowling said the city will “move to dismiss Jeff Senter’s lawsuit and pursue sanctions” against him, adding that Senter previously waived his right to sue the city over his firing.
Hunt did not respond to a request for comments.
Most of the allegations in the lawsuit have already been reported by The Sun News, such as Senter’s romantic relationship with Melissa Edge, their turbulent breakup culminating with an obscenity-laced confrontation at the city’s Cherry Grove fire station and claims by Melissa Edge that David Hatley stalked and harassed her after he “began to be obsessed with Mrs. Edge,” according the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims that Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, pressured Bailey to fire Senter after Tracy Edge learned about Senter’s relationship with his wife. When Bailey declined to fire Senter, Tracy Edge allegedly started leaking damaging information about the wildfire response to area media, according to the lawsuit.
“I just don’t know how much more I can handle,” Bailey told Senter at the time, according to the lawsuit. Senter then told Bailey that if he wanted to stop Tracy Edge, he should call Edge’s boss at Burroughs & Chapin and “advise him of Mr. Edge’s actions.”
A few days later, Bailey told Senter that he had called the boss, who stated that he met with Tracy Edge and told him “if he continued his action he would be terminated from Burroughs & Chapin,” according to the lawsuit.
Senter also claims in the lawsuit that Marilyn Hatley conspired to have him fired because Senter was critical of the city’s response to the wildfire and because he complained to city officials about David Hatley’s alleged conduct toward Melissa Edge.
Senter’s criticism over the wildfire response was caught on another dashcam video in which he told Melissa Edge during a telephone conversation that city officials “got caught with their pants down” and failed to prepare for the fire. Senter and Melissa Edge also made references to their relationship during that conversation.
Senter claims in his lawsuit that he tried to break off his relationship with Melissa Edge in early 2010 but she continued to harass him through telephone calls and e-mails. Their relationship culminated with a nearly hour-long confrontation between Senter and Melissa Edge – caught on a dashcam video – that started at 9:45 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2010, at the city’s fire station on Sea Mountain Highway.
The video shows that Melissa Edge was angry because she believed Senter had been talking to a firefighter at the station with whom she also was having a relationship. The video shows a combative Melissa Edge, who admits drinking alcohol before the event and at several points spoke directly into Senter’s microphone while detailing their romantic trysts. Melissa Edge also threatened to have Senter fired if he takes her to jail.
Senter states numerous times on the video that Melissa Edge is intoxicated, but he does not arrest her. Instead, he urges her to get psychological help and arranges for Tracy Edge to pick her up and take her home.
No charges were filed, and Senter did not write a report about the incident. The city fired Senter because of his actions on the video and for failing to give a sobriety test to Melissa Edge.
In addition to the conspiracy claim, Senter said in his lawsuit that he has suffered emotional distress, loss of income and damage to his reputation. He also accuses Melissa Edge of assault, saying she “attempted to strike” Senter and that he “was in fear of Mrs. Edge’s actions.”
Senter also accuses the city of wrongful termination and the city’s Aquatic and Fitness Center of violating his right to privacy by disclosing that Melissa Edge had paid for his annual membership at the center.
Senter is asking for a jury trial and wants unspecified actual, consequential and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees and costs.
Dowling said Senter signed away his rights to sue the city when he dropped out of a 2010 lawsuit seeking public disclosure of the dashcam video showing his confrontation with Melissa Edge. Bailey and The Sun News also sued the city to release the video under terms of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
Senter – who dropped out the lawsuit prior to a city grievance hearing over his firing – agreed at that time to dismiss “any and all such claims which have or could have been made related to the subject matter of [the FOIA] action.”
“Having seen a draft copy of the complaint Jeff has now filed, it is apparent that the dashcam video and its release are an integral part of his new lawsuit,” Dowling said in a written statement, adding that the waiver Senter’s lawyer signed on Senter’s behalf in 2010 precludes any subsequent litigation over the matter.
Tracy Edge said he plans to countersue Senter for any court costs or attorney’s fees he might incur because of the lawsuit and intends to file a complaint against Hunt for filing what he terms a frivolous lawsuit. Marilyn Hatley said she has not determined whether she or her husband will take any legal action against Senter.