Lawsuit by former Simpsonville police chief Keith Grounsell dismissed

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A lawsuit filed by former Simpsonville Police Chief Keith Grounsell alleging defamation by the city has been dismissed.

Judge Alex Kinlaw, Jr. signed an order Wednesday dismissing the suit, bringing an end to a saga that pitted city against chief for much of the past decade.

"This litigation is over and the city believes the outcome would be favorable to it," Simpsonville city attorney David Holmes said Thursday. "We're grateful that the case is now over and wish Mr. Grounsell the best in his future endeavors."

Based on previous cases, the judge determined the former chief was a public figure at the time of the press conference where the alleged defamation occurred, Grounsell's attorney Brooks Derrick said.

"The court's ruling was not based on the facts or merits of my termination," Grounsell said. "I know that my termination was wrong regardless of the technical legal issues. As for me, I am glad to be done with Simpsonville's politics and am happier moving on."

An appeal is possible but had not been discussed as of Thursday afternoon, Brooks said.

"The city is glad to have this matter behind it," said city spokesperson Justin Campbell.

Grounsell became the police chief in Simpsonville in 2012. He resigned in 2016 when Simpsonville City Council planned to fire him to end a controversial tenure that included Grounsell's filing complaints to the State Law Enforcement Division over alleged misconduct involving police safety and operations.

He'd been fired by Simpsonville once before, after three months on the job in 2012, when former Mayor Perry Eichor called him "unmanageable," but Grounsell was reinstated to his position by Simpsonville City Council vote in 2014.

Later in 2014, Simpsonville paid Grounsell a $25,000 settlement over lost time on the job.

The lawsuit that was dismissed this week was filed in May 2018 against the city — as well as several council members — for defamation, wrongful discharge and negligence over the events that led to his resignation in 2016. Derrick, Grounsell's attorney, said at the time of the resignation that Grounsell was forced to choose between resignation or dismissal, and he said Grounsell chose resignation to protect his family and future job prospects.

On Dec. 13, 2021, Simpsonville city officials moved for dismissal of the remaining suit. Judge Lawton McIntosh granted partial summary judgments for Simpsonville in December 2020 when he dismissed claims of wrongful discharge and negligence, and the order signed this week by Judge Kinlaw dismissed Grounsell's claim of defamation.

Grounsell initially asked for a jury trial but agreed the judge could direct a verdict prior to the case being presented for jurors. Based on previous cases and Grounsell's status on June 1, 2016, as a public figure, Kinlaw granted Simpsonville's motion for dismissal, according to the Jan. 5 order.

"The plaintiff stipulated on the record that he waives any appeal ground promised on the timing of the directed verdict motion, but he preserves his right to appeal the court's substantive rulings that the plaintiff is a public official and that his defamation claim is barred by S.C. Code 15-78-60(20)," Kinlaw wrote in the order. "With that stipulation and understanding of the parties, the court finds that it is appropriate for the entry of a directed verdict on the legal basis stated herein prior to the plaintiffs presentation of his case-in-chief."

– Caitlin Herrington, local reporter and lover of alliteration, covers government and growth in the Golden Strip. Get in touch with her at cherrington@greenvillenews.com, support her work by subscribing and follow her on Twitter @GVLnewsCat.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Lawsuit by former Simpsonville SC police chief dismissed

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