Murrieta City Councilman Jonathan Ingram is facing a federal lawsuit filed by a Fullerton man who claimed his civil rights were violated even as both sides claimed to be the victims of cyberbullying.
U.S. Navy veteran Jeffrey Benson alleges in the lawsuit that Ingram falsely accused him of making terroristic threats last year during the city council elections, which led to him being arrested by Murrieta police.
"I want to make sure what happened to me doesn't happen to other people in the next election," Benson said Monday.
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Benson said the claims of threats were made up in retaliation for his criticism of Ingram and his claims during the campaign.
"It was a negative campaign, to be honest, and that's political speech," he said.
Benson created an anti-Ingram Facebook page after finding out what he calls damaging information about Ingram’s business past.
"This guy Jon Ingram was running as small businessman for 25 years," Benson said. "That was his platform. I discovered he hasn't owned a business in 25 years."
But Benson said he never threatened violence against Ingram, and only said that his campaign would come to a bad ending.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s office eventually declined to prosecute Benson because of a lack of evidence.
Benson said despite the dismissal of charges, he lost his job as a substitute teacher because of the arrest. He is now seeking unspecified damages.
But Ingram’s family said Benson’s campaign against the candidate was about much more than politics.
"I don't understand why he feels it's OK to attack my father by proxy to try and get to me. That's what this is about," said Ashley Hutchinson, Ingram’s daughter.
Hutchinson said Benson is a cyberbully who has been cyberstalking her for years.
She believes Benson has some kind of vendetta against her, stemming from when they went to junior college together.
Hutchinson showed NBC4 emails she said Benson sent her last year while she was pregnant and her husband was stationed in Afghanistan.
"He said my unborn child should just commit suicide before being born into a family like mine," Hutchinson said through tears.
Benson denies cyberstalking Hutchinson.
Hutchinson said he became involved in the Murrieta city council race, despite being a Fullerton resident, when he was hired by a medical marijuana advocate to find out which candidates supported dispensaries, and he was not targeting Ingram because of any type of grudge.
"It's just shameful that he would use his daughter,” Benson said. “Just to sound like she's the victim when it's only between Jon Ingram and I."