(WB) A gay man in Oklahoma raising a black son has filed a civil rights lawsuit against his local sheriff for allegedly allowing fellow residents to burn down his home in an attempt to run him out of town.
The complaint, filed on Aug. 3 and made public Sunday, was filed in federal court by Randy Gamel-Medler, who formerly resided in Blaine County, Okla.
The town clerk, Gamel-Medler lived in the City of Hitchcock with his seven-year-old adopted son whom he brought there in August 2016. The city’s population is just 121, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Gamel-Medler alleges he faced continual threats of violence based on anti-gay bias and racial enmity after moving his son to Blaine County because of his sexual orientation and his son’s race. These threats came before an apparent effort by locals to burn down his home as they looked on upon its destruction.
According to the lawsuit, Meradith Norris, a trustee of the Town of Hitchcock, upon learning Gamel Medler had a black son, said at a town meeting in the presence of city officials, “What’s going to happen when your house burns down and we don’t send out the fire trucks?” Afterwards, Gamel-Medler filed a police report with the former sheriff of Blaine County, but no action was taken, the lawsuit says.
Months later, when Gamel-Medler was performing his duties on the road as town clerk, he was allegedly assaulted by convicted felon Jonita Pauls Jacks who came up to Gamel-Medler’s truck and tried to enter it. When Gamel-Medler locked the door, Jonita Pauls Jacks started shaking the truck, called him a “fucking queer,” and said, “I’m going to grab your little boy, rip his nigger head off, and shit down his throat,'” the lawsuit says.
Afterwards, Gamel-Medler went to the office of Blaine County Sheriff Tony Almaguer to file a report, but the sheriff allegedly refused to take it and told him, “That’s just how they are out there and it’s free speech.”
Other actions were allegedly taken against Gamel-Medler. They include gravel being thrown at his home by a townsperson on a motorcycle; the erection near a post office where Gamel-Medler and his son walked of a three-by-four-foot sign reading “The town clerk is a fucking queer”; and a physical altercation after a townsperson ran Gamel-Medler and his friend from the road.
Deputy Sheriff Bob Kissimee allegedly took Gamel-Medler aside after the last incident and warned him, “These people are serious. They’re going to kill you, they’re going to kill your son and they’re going to burn your house down.”
Other town authorities, including Hitchcock Mayor Rick Edsall, took no action, the lawsuit says. Blaine County Undersheriff Dave Robertson allegedly wouldn’t allow the filing of a police report after the incident.
In May 2017, Gamel-Medler, who had just sent his son to a neighbor’s house, heard a noise in his garage like glass breaking and called the sheriff’s office to report a burglary, then saw a fire in his garage and called for the fire department. Although Gamel-Medler lived one block from the fire station, the fire department allegedly did nothing for an extended period of time, resulting in his home burning to the ground.
While Gamel-Medler’s house was burning, three townspeople — Patsy Meier, Kenny Meier and Joey Pauls — allegedly watched nearby. The mayor and his family were allegedly watching from their lawn chairs, the lawsuit alleges. A person believed to be the fire marshal allegedly told Gamel-Medler the recorded minutes from a town council meeting in which officials threatened to burn his house down were in his home, adding words to the effect of, “I guess that takes care of that.”
The named defendants in the lawsuit are Blaine County Sheriff Tony Almaguer, Under Sheriff David Robertson, Edsall and townspeople that allegedly threatened Gamel-Medler. The lawsuit calls on the court to assess damages Gamel-Medler incurred as a result of the threats and loss of his home as well as punitive damages against the defendants.
Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, said in a statement the threats to Gamel-Medler and the loss of his home demonstrate “after years of progress, crimes of bias still exist.”
“The allegations in Hitchcock are horrific, and show the intersection of hate aimed at both the African-American and LGBTQ communities,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said the threats and property loss Gamel-Medler faced also demonstrate the need for Oklahoma to pass legislation against hate crimes. A federal hate crimes law, the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is in place as a result of former President Obama signing the measure in 2009.
The lawsuit asserts federal court is the appropriate jurisdiction for adjudication under the Fourteenth Amendment because of a 1983 federal law making local officials liable for denying civil rights to U.S. citizens. The lawsuit also makes claims under other federal laws against conspiracy and denial of equal protection of the law.
Gamel-Medler also asserts claims under state law against assault, battery, destruction of property and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Representing Gamel-Medler in the lawsuit is Mark Hammons, an attorney with the Oklahoma City-based Hammons, Gowens, Hurst & Associates.
“The horrific treatment of this man and his child are a terrible reminder of how hatred and bigotry feed off of each other,” Hammons said. “I hope this lawsuit will bring justice for him and social awareness for everyone.”
The sheriff’s office for Blaine County referred Blade inquiries on the lawsuit to Blaine County District Attorney Mike Fields, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Also condemning the acts and supporting the lawsuit in a statement was Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“No family should live in fear or have to endure harassment and threats based on racism and homophobia,” Minter said. “We must hold those government officials, members of law enforcement, and others accountable.”
— Chris Johnson, Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.