New Port Richey has been hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit

By | September 18, 2023

New Port Richey is facing another federal civil rights lawsuit, this one brought by a property owner who said she was cited for numerous code violations and was harassed by city officials who raided her home to conduct an illegal search.

The 39-page complaint was filed last week by Michelle Wojciechowski against the city, City Attorney Timothy Driscoll and New Port Richey Police Officer Charles Morgan. The eight-count lawsuit alleges civil rights violations, trespassing and retaliation and seeks $1 million in damages and preventative measures against future retaliation.

Wojciechowski, a licensed psychiatric and mental health nurse, purchased the property at 5445 Gulf Drive, New Port Richey, in late 2020 and planned to open a therapy practice. According to the complaint, records showed that the property was used as an office and residence and was therefore suitable for such use.

After closing on the property, he began cleaning and preparing the site and contacted city officials to make sure what he needed to open the business. She said she spoke with Tammy Ledford, a permit technician, explaining his plans to open a mental health clinic.

“Ledford told her that ‘methadone clinics’ were not welcome in New Port Richey and refused to give Wojciechowski a clear, direct answer regarding NPR’s requirements for opening a business – essentially refusing to talk to her further on the matter,” according to the complaint.

Wojciechowski said he did not mention opening a methadone clinic, according to the complaint. Shortly thereafter, he said, the “attacks” by city officials began. In late 2021, Morgan cited her for using his commercial property as a residence even though he claims he doesn’t live there. It was the first of several alleged code violations.

The lawsuit states that Wojciechowski contacted city officials but they did not work with her.

“Instead… New Port Richey waged a crusade to insult, torment, and intimidate Wojciechowski and took active steps to impede her use and enjoyment of the Gulf Drive property, and ultimately force her to leave New Port Richey,” he alleges the cause. .

When she spoke out about her treatment at City Council meetings, city officials “attacked and retaliated against Wojciechowski for exercising her First Amendment right to free speech, citing her with a multitude of unfounded code violations,” it said. in the complaint.

The city also pursued criminal charges related to the code violations, which the state’s attorney later decided not to prosecute, according to court documents that included information about the search of his property.

On March 16, 2022, the lawsuit claims the city drilled the locks on Wojciechowski’s property and conducted an extensive search there when she was not present. Led by Driscoll and Morgan, police entered the site “with guns drawn and proceeded to search the property without probable cause. Before breaking into the property on Gulf Drive, the defendants were observed searching for trash cans on Wojciechowski’s property,” the lawsuit states.

Security camera footage showed that the officers “planned to kill Wojciechowski’s dogs that were in the building.”

The lawsuit profiles the 13 officials who allegedly trespassed on the property, including the city attorney, law enforcement officers, the building official, five members of the city’s police department and the fire department. According to the lawsuit, city officials later replaced the lock on the property but did not return the building’s keys to the owner.

The lawsuit also claims that officials made it clear that she was not welcome in the city and did not appreciate residents like Wojciechowski who made frequent public records requests. In a recorded council meeting, then-Mayor Rob Marlowe said people who were “weaponizing” public records requests should “just go away.”

City Administrator Debbie Manns and Morgan said the city does not comment on ongoing litigation. Driscoll did not immediately return a phone call.

This is the second recent federal lawsuit against New Port Richey. The precedent was set last year by Marlowe Jones, a resident arrested for assault during a Black Lives Matter demonstration. He was subsequently acquitted. He accused the city of discrimination, mistreatment and harassment.

That lawsuit seeks $2 million in damages.

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