Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and former School Superintendent Gary Chesley were cleared Tuesday of having defamed a Bethel resident in an e-mail sent to the Board of Education in August 2009.
Dan Gaita, a Bethel personal trainer, claimed the e-mail hurt his business and caused him distress. The e-mail warned board members about a video Gaita created.
Knickerbocker, the Bethel first selectman since November 2009, said he didn't write the email, and he wasn't in the room when it was written. He said Chesley's goal was to let board of education members know a video was being circulated that dealt with Bethel Schools. The email might have gone a bit beyond its goal by referring to the video as hate speech.
It was campaign season in Bethel, and Knickerbocker was a candidate for first selectman. The video portrayed him as a bad politician, Knickerbocker said, and was a political attack.
Gaita had created the video raising questions about Knickerbocker, a former Board of Education member, who was running for first selectman. It raised questions about renovations at Bethel High School that took place in 2001 and 2002 when Knickerbocker was on the board.
Both Chesley and Knickerbocker were cleared of defaming Gaita by the jury Tuesday.
"Both of us won," Knickerbocker said. The jurors started deliberations Tuesday morning, and finished before 3:45 p.m. Tuesday. Chesley retired last year after serving as Bethel's Superintendent of Schools for 12 years.