‘Tunnel Guy’ Comment Leads to Lawsuit | News, Sports, Jobs

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WARREN – A libel lawsuit has been filed in Trumbull County Common Plea Court against Newton Falls, village director David Lynch and a local resident after comments made nearly a year ago about a worker who volunteered to help beautify the village.

Jose Angel Morales of Newton Falls filed a lawsuit against Lynch and Roy Clonch Jr., who was his employer at the time he was doing a community cleanup for the “Tunnel” in Newton Falls in August 2020.

The lawsuit claims that Clonch made a false and defamatory statement that Morales was an illegal Mexican immigrant working on his green card. The lawsuit claims that several people witnessed the statement and said it was inappropriate and badly received as a joke.

At the August 17, 2020 council meeting, Lynch, who the lawsuit said was present when Clonch made the comment, also made a similar statement acknowledging the citizens for their volunteer work, referring to Morales as “José the tunnel guy” and declared “He’s working on his green card, we think, folks.”

Lynch’s statement was recorded on video of the meeting as part of the public record and posted to the Internet.

The lawsuit says the statements were derogatory in nature due to the plantif’s ethnicity and implied that he was not a U.S. citizen.

Morales was born in Florida and graduated from Newton Falls High School. The lawsuit claims that Morales was the object of contempt and ridicule, changed residence and lost his job due to constant harassment.

The lawsuit says Morales will continue to be damaged indefinitely, indicating when he applies for a job or requires a background check, a basic internet search will produce a record of a public official questioning the legitimacy of his citizenship.

The lawsuit says Lynch is aware of the reputational damage that can arise based on false and defamatory statements, as Lynch pursues an alleged false statement regarding his profession as a village director and seeks more than a million dollars.

Lynch said last year shortly after the August meeting, where volunteers were recognized for their work including removing graffiti including offensive comments about underpasses and pedestrian tunnels, that he didn’t want not offend Morales.

Lynch had said he had met Morales once while he was working and talked to him, and had noted that he was a hard worker.

Lynch added that he did not know his last name when he made the comment at the meeting because he only received Jose’s name with the list of names of the people in writing. He said the volunteer coordinator sent him an email referring to “José the tunnel guy” while Morales was working on the tunnel as part of the community project.

Morales’ mother, Faith Ann Morales of Newton Falls, commented on a Facebook page that she watched the meeting online. She noted when Lynch got to her son, “for some reason (he) thinks it’s appropriate to call him the tunnel man and he’s working on a green card!”

The case will be heard by Common Plea Judge Ronald Rice. A hearing date has not been set, according to court records.

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