The whereabouts of West Point Mayor Scott Ross remain unknown, but rampant speculation surrounding his departure has sparked a libel suit.
Brian Kelley, a partner in Ross” law firm, issued a statement Friday announcing intentions to sue “a local newspaper (which) printed a story on November 4, 2010, purporting to detail circumstances related to Mayor Ross” leave.”
The newspaper in question is not named specifically, but The Columbus Packet printed a story on the date in question citing “several sources” which claimed Ross had checked into Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg. The story also alleges “Ross enrolled in the program after being caught by his wife in a sexually compromising situation with another human being.”
Kelley”s release states The Packet”s story is “completely and utterly false” and claims the newspaper ran the story despite knowledge of its inaccuracy.
Colin Krieger, editor and publisher of The Packet, confirmed he received a letter from Kelley on Monday stating the intent to sue.
The Packet also received several calls from individuals, including Ross” wife and Kelley, refuting claims Ross is at Pine Grove or that he had been involved in any inappropriate sexual situations.
Krieger said The Packet intends to fulfill Kelley”s demand to run a retraction on the front page of its next issue. He said a reliable source provided the information about Ross but was wrong about the alleged sexual situation and the mayor”s whereabouts.
“We”re saying we”re wrong. Our source still stands by his story, but we”ll put it on our front page in a place of prominence that (Ross” wife) did not catch him in a sexually compromising situation,” said Krieger. “We will say he”s not at that particular rehab facility and his wife didn”t catch him.”
With regard to Kelley”s claim The Packet knew the story to be false, Krieger said the story was printed without malice and ran only because the source in question had proven reliable in the past.
“We probably should have been a little more careful how we worded it,” Krieger conceded. “We regret the error for sure. But we still want to find out where (Ross) is.”
An email from Kelley indicated the suit would move forward regardless of the retraction.
“The Packet”s malicious attempt to smear Mayor Ross is unacceptable. We will continue to address all legal avenues of recourse. The damage was done when The Packet chose to print this article knowing, without question, that it was false and would be damaging to Mayor Ross and his family. Unfortunately, an apology and retraction seven days later cannot undo that damage,” said Kelley.
Ward 4 Selectman and Vice Mayor Keith McBrayer released a statement Oct. 28 announcing Ross had begun an indefinite leave of absence. McBrayer will serve as mayor pro tem until Ross returns.
No West Point city employee has gone on record regarding the details surrounding Ross” leave. A multitude of rumors has surrounded his departure, but no sources of The Dispatch have claimed to know the truth.
Ross also sits on the state College Board but, according to the board”s communication director, has expressed no intention of taking leave from the board.
The State College Board meets monthly for two days. The board”s next scheduled meeting is Nov. 17-18.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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