Dinius files claim against Lake County

January 12, 2010 7:39:35 PM PST
The man who was cleared of all charges in a fatal boat crash on Clear Lake three years ago, has now filed a claim against Lake County for wrongful prosecution. It is the first step toward a lawsuit.

Bismarck Dinius is accusing the Lake County prosecutor and the sheriff of putting him on trial to cover for a top official in the sheriff's department.

"They accused me of killing somebody, they falsely accused me of killing somebody," says Dinius.

A jury cleared Dinius last summer of a felony manslaughter charge for the death of Lynn Thornton. They both were riding in a sailboat at night, when a powerboat driven by the No. 2 official in the Lake County Sheriff's Department, Russell Perdock, slammed into them.

From the start, the case focused on Dinius -- he was at the tiller, had been drinking, and Perdock claimed the sailboat's running lights were off. The prosecutor ignored the fact that Perdock's speedboat was traveling 40 mph or more on a dark, moonless night.

"It's obvious he was at fault for this and they just ignored it, and tried to protect him," said Dinius.

Dinius' claim filed Monday with the Lake County Board of Supervisors says Sheriff Rodney Mitchell and Perdock concealed evidence showing Dinius was innocent and that District Attorney Jon Hopkins conspired with them. It says Dinius spent more than $300,000 for his defense "...against the groundless felony charges."

"First and foremost, I need to be compensated for, you know, wrongfully pursuing the case against me. It's cost me my job, my savings, a lot of my retirement," says Dinius.

"If these claims are true, this could be a very, very expensive lawsuit for the county and for the individuals involved," says ABC7's legal analyst Dean Johnson.

Johnson explains the county will probably reject Dinius' claim, so he will be free to file a lawsuit. Johnson also says suing the government is always difficult and suing a prosecutor is next to impossible -- with one exception.

"The only time when you can really sue a prosecutor is if you allege that the prosecutor has conspired with other people and has become the agent of harm that's been caused by others," says Johnson.

And that is precisely what Dinius is doing.

"I don't know what the future's going to bring, I know it's going to be an arduous task to put a civil suit against a government entity, but it's the right thing to do," says Dinius.

In the meantime, Dinius tells the ABC7 he is trying to look on the bright side. The I-Team met him on Sunday as he prepared for a race on San Francisco Bay.

Dinius says sailing past San Quentin reminds him, he could have wound up behind bars or worse.

"I count my blessings, I'm still alive because I could have died with Lynn. I was hurt badly in the incident and I could have been right there with her and died myself," says Dinius.

The I-Team reached out to Hopkins, Perdock, and Mitchell for comment. Only the sheriff responded with an e-mail saying, "I am confident that our department engaged in no conduct in violation of Bismark Dinius' rights."

The entire claim is posted in Dan Noyes' latest I-Team blog.