Motion in lawsuit claims evidence tampering

WARREN — Niles City Schools officials are accused of tampering with a key piece of evidence in the case of fired teacher Christopher Chieffo, according to a motion filed Feb. 14 in a lawsuit Chieffo filed against the district.

Chieffo, 45, was terminated Jan. 18 by the Board of Education after being accused of using sick time while he was coaching boys golf for Howland Local Schools during an October tournament — accusations he claims were defamatory. Chieffo is appealing his termination and a hearing is set for Friday.

In the meantime, Chieffo and his wife Abbey, who still teaches in the district, filed suit Feb. 5 against the district, Board of Education and others seeking $4 million in damages. The couple claims Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen and her husband, Michael Thigpen, as well as Board of Education President Susan Longacre, invaded their privacy, and also claims school board members engaged in group texts in May 2016 that implied they chose a high school principal before an interview process occurred.

Benjamin Marrison, director of communications for the state auditor’s office, said a court would ultimately have to decide whether the board violated open meeting laws. However, the law prohibits discussion of public business by the majority of members of a public body whether face-to-face, by phone, text or some other form of communication, he said.

The motion filed Wednesday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court claims that seven days after Chieffo filed suit, someone reprogrammed the computer system district employees use to call off sick. The system is a significant piece of evidence in Chieffo’s termination appeal and his lawsuit and a summary judgment of $4 million is being sought, the motion states.

The motion requests that a jury be informed before trial that employees or administrators of Niles City Schools purposely reprogrammed the system and it asks for the names of anyone who reprogrammed the system or any administrators who directed the reprogramming. It also requests the Trumbull County Prosecutors’ Office be notified regarding tampering with evidence and obstructing official business.

Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen and Board President Susan Longacre didn’t return calls seeking comment and neither did attorneys representing the district. Kelly Newbrough, an attorney representing the Chieffos, said he believes the Chieffos are not the only employees to have been wronged by the district and he said when he was a teacher there, he faced similar issues.

Newbrough was a high school math teacher and was suspended for 10 days in 2010 after being accused of threatening a student, which he claims was a false accusation. Newbrough said he resigned on his own accord, went to law school and he’s now happy to defend the Chieffos, whom he previously worked with. Newbrough believes his prior work in the district and his previous suspension are matters aimed at deflecting attention away from a corrupt board and administration. Newbrough said he intends to focus on the “here and now” rather than something he was subjected to eight years ago.

“It seems like the culture in Niles schools is corrupt and when employees speak up they try to get rid of you,” Newbrough said.