Malicious prosecution lawsuit dismissed

A malicious prosecution lawsuit by a woman accused of misappropriating flood relief donations was dismissed by a federal judge last week.

Denise Mathis, former director of the Haywood County Council on Aging, claims she was wrongly accused of mismanaging the finances of the agency she once led. Mathis lost her job and was charged with 14 counts of embezzlement in 2006 for allegedly misappropriating $100,000 in aid in the wake of massive flooding along the Pigeon River in 2004.

In an attempt to clear her name, Mathis sued District Attorney Mike Bonfoey and Waynesville Detective Tyler Trantham for malicious prosecution and accused them of inadequately investigating her case. She also sued them for conspiracy and making false public statements.

But a federal judge disagreed that Bonfoey or Trantham set out to malign Mathis. They were acting in their official capacity and cannot be sued simply because the target of an investigation doesn’t like the outcome.

“To do so would subject every prosecutorial decision, every investigation that leads to charges, and every decision of a grand jury to be second guessed by a federal court,” Federal Magistrate Dennis Howell wrote in a recommendation that laid the groundwork for the dismissal by the judge.

The embezzlement charges against Mathis were ultimately dropped. While the $100,000 in question did not make it into the hands of flood victims as donors intended, Mathis used it to cover expenses of the nonprofit agency rather than personal gain, Bonfoey said of his decision to drop the charges.

Mathis could appeal the case.

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