Union publisher alleges assault over column | TheUnion.com

Union publisher alleges assault over column

The publisher of The Union has filed a civil lawsuit against a man he alleges attacked him in his office.

A case management conference regarding the suit has been scheduled for Monday, April 5, at the courthouse in Nevada City.

The suit filed in Nevada County Superior Court claims that Jim Knight, a Penn Valley resident and the golf pro at Lake Wildwood, struck Editor/ Publisher Jeff Ackerman on Oct. 20, 2009, injuring him and causing him to fall to the ground.

The suit, which was filed in November 2009, alleges medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and emotional distress – demanding at least $1.5 million in compensation.

To date, no criminal charges have been filed in the case.

“According to witnesses, Mr. Knight came to the office (at The Union in Grass Valley) in a highly agitated state,” said Ackerman’s attorney, Craig Diamond. “He was, from my understanding, quite profane and angry about an editorial written by Mr. Ackerman.”

The column, titled “Heroin menace lurks within our midst” and published that day, discussed two incidents: The fatal heroin overdose of an unidentified 17-year-old Penn Valley girl and a Grass Valley police raid on Doris Drive in which 10 people were arrested for allegedly selling, using or trying to buy heroin.

According to Diamond, Ackerman asked Knight to come back to his office to talk, but Knight became more agitated.

“It was clear no conversation was going to take place,” Diamond said. “Mr. Ackerman opened the door to his office so Mr. Knight could exit, and Mr. Knight assaulted him.”

Ackerman sustained injuries to his head and his hand, Diamond said.

Two Grass Valley police officers, Deborah Bayer and Tyler Blake, responded to the incident, according to the report given to The Union by The Union’s legal counsel, Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe.

When officers arrived at The Union, Knight had left in a vehicle driven by his daughter and was stopped by Bayer several blocks away, according to the police report. Knight told Bayer he was upset by the publication of an allegation regarding another daughter’s death, Bayer reported. Knight could not recall threatening Ackerman; he said he went into Ackerman’s office, and then the publisher told him he needed to leave, according to the report.

“Knight continued yelling, and the man (Ackerman) eventually pushed Knight back in an attempt to force him out of the office,” Bayer wrote in her report, based on Knight’s statement. “Knight said he pushed the man back, and they became involved in a physical fight … He did not recall that any punches were thrown.”

Ackerman told Blake he was attempting to remove Knight from his office when “the male used both hands and pushed Ackerman on his chest.” Ackerman then fell backward into a chair and a mini-refrigerator, he told the officer.

At the time, Ackerman declined to press charges, saying he understood Knight was a grieving father, the report said.

But the next day, Ackerman filed a complaint after seeking treatment for his injuries, which included a possible concussion and a suspected broken finger, the police report said.

Ackerman did not recall the events directly after the assault and was unsure whether he lost consciousness, but began feeling nauseous that afternoon, according to a report filed by Officer Alex Gammelgard on Oct. 26.

Grass Valley police interviewed four employees of The Union on Oct. 28, a week after the incident.

Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller said that, as Ackerman and Knight left the publisher’s office, expletives were exchanged before Knight “forcefully” shoved Ackerman with both hands. Ackerman allegedly stumbled back and then “came back” at Knight and appeared to try to push Knight back. Knight then grabbed Ackerman in a bear hug, and both fell to the ground, Moller told police.

Production Director Lee Brant gave a similar account, saying Knight shoved Ackerman, and Ackerman shoved Knight back before Knight “used his body weight to bring Ackerman to the ground.”

Advertising Director Lynn Virgilio told police she saw Knight turn and assault Ackerman. Several employees, including Brant and Moller, pulled Knight off Ackerman, according to the report.

While the lawsuit’s statement of damages, including punitive damages, is listed at more than $1.5 million, Diamond said that is just a broad statement of potential damages.

“Whatever we can prove at trial is what we’re entitled to,” he said. (For a statement from The Union’s president, who also serves as president of the newspaper’s parent company, Swift Communications, see Page A4 of Saturday’s The Union.)

Knight’s attorney, Bradley Thomas, filed an answer to the complaint alleging Ackerman was careless and negligent and that his “willful and wanton conduct” contributed to the incident.

Thomas also alleged in the complaint that Ackerman attacked Knight first, and any assault on Knight’s part was self-defense.

“Our position is that Mr. Knight was simply defending himself and that he certainly did not go to The Union with any anticipation or expectation of any physical confrontation,” Thomas said. “It’s unfortunate that it resulted in a physical altercation, but he is not responsible.”

“I’ve heard that (claim), but none of the witnesses observed that, and none of the physical evidence supports that particular scenario,” Diamond said.

“I was assaulted,” Ackerman said, referring all other questions to his lawyer.

Knight declined comment for this article, his lawyer said.

The content of the column is not a part of the lawsuit, even though it was the precipitating factor in the confrontation, according to the attorneys for both parties.

“It was the editorial that created questions in my client’s mind as to where the information came from, and that’s really what he wanted to find out from Mr. Ackerman,” Thomas said.

“That’s what led him to The Union in the first place. It’s not an issue involved in the lawsuit other than being the precursor to the visit.”

“It seems to me that, irrespective of the content of the editorial and the facts which led to the editorial, nothing justified Mr. Knight’s actions,” Diamond said.

Grass Valley police forwarded the incident report on Oct. 29, 2009, to the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office for review as a routine procedure, said Grass Valley police Capt. Dave Remillard.

“Our job as the police is to be fact-finders,” Remillard said. “We respond to the incident, and we collect the information, and then we send it to the District Attorney’s Office for review. That happens with every case.”

Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell has not decided whether Knight will face criminal charges and would not provide a possible time frame for his decision.

“I have to analyze … the situation and come to a decision whether it’s in the best interest of the public and the best interest of justice to charge the case,” Newell said.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.

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