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Mother and 11-year old daughter pepper sprayed at Mudstock ATV event

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In the Eastern District of Texas, United States District Court

Case 6:12-cv-00071, Janette Vaught and H.Y. a minor v. Cherokee County, Texas, Deputy Donald Williams, Unknown Sheriff’s Deputy, Sheriff James Campbell; and Townsquare Media, LLC

Jacksonville, TX:

The US Eastern District will be considering another civil rights complaint filed by a Smith County resident who attended Jacksonville’s Mudcreek Off-Road Park event in September 2010. Janette Vaught and her 11-year old daughter were pulled from a moving 4-wheeler driven by a third person, and all three kicked and maced by Cherokee County Sheriff Deputies working security at the annual Mudstock event. Participants in the pageant were pre-assigned drivers who paraded couples and family members around the arena. The driver of Ms. Vaught and her daughter’s ATV was David Barlow of Rusk, TX.  Barlow was charged with resisting arrest after the pepper spraying, and recently accepted a deferred adjudication agreement. As Barlow drove around the arena, he apparently failed to quickly respond to the command of Deputy Don Williams as the ATV carrying Ms. Vaught and her daughter approached the event center stage. As a result, Barlow was hauled off to jail that evening and mother and daughter were sent home bruised up with a belly full of mace. Ms. Vaught and her daughter reside in Tyler, TX, the child with relatives.

David Barlow is apparently no stranger to the Cherokee County criminal justice system. With a pending civil rights complaint against them, Barlow could have faced a courtroom of ineligible jurors in their back pockets, or have the district judge sentence him in hopes of quelling his passengers’  civil complaint. The fact is Cherokee County law enforcement knows they can lose their cool and there will be no repercussions for roughing up innocent bystanders and pepper spraying children in the process. Sheriff James Campbell does not reprimand his employees for violating the law and the higher courts will not hold that bunch accountable without a federal jury trial. Hence the US Eastern District’s pattern of summarily dismissing civil rights cases across their jurisdiction, before a vetted federal jury can even consider the complaints.

In her complaint, Ms. Vaught is seeking punitive damages against the Cherokee County sheriff department and the radio station that organized of the off-road event. She claims the lack screening of drivers and security, as well as Sheriff James Campbell’s departmental policies, lead to her and her daughter’s injuries.

As the driver of the all-terrain vehicle approached a stage, police officers grabbed his [Barlow’s] arm and used Mace on the driver and on Vaught and her daughter.

Ms.Vaught further states that she attempted to file a written report with the sheriff regarding the incident but a proper investigation was not conducted.

She claims she was told to contact the FBI.

On behalf of the minor, the plaintiff is seeking damages for emotional trauma, loss of sleep, anxiety, loss of appetite and fear. (Source: Southeast Texas Record, Feb. 27, 2012 Radio station sued after police Mace child at Mudstock event)

Every spectator, vendor and contestant at the event witnessed the arrest of David Barlow and assault of his passengers, but only one media outlet located in Beaumont, TX reported the assaults and original Civil Tort Claim.

Count One: the violation of Ms. Vaught and her daughter’s constitutional right by the reckless behavior of the Cherokee County deputies and their policy in place of pretending that the pepper spraying and kicking of three compliant individuals, including a child, didn’t take place. Even though every single spectator at the stage level eye-witnessed the mother and daughter thrown from the 4-wheeler by deputies kicking David Barlow’s ass. Has any Cherokee County official in recent memory, other than County Attorney Craig Caldwell, ever issued a formal apology for making a mistake? (Source: KETK Jan. 19, 2012, “County Attorney apologizes to KETK”)

By their conduct and the ensuing lack of investigation or disciplinary actions, the Sheriff’s Department obviously endorsed an unwritten policy, practice, and/or custom of indifference to the rights and safety of by standers during arrests and demanding instant compliance despite the fact that the vehicle was still running. The target of the arrest had no weapons, and had apparently done nothing more than, at most, fail to immediately follow the instructions of Deputy Williams. Any reasonable deputy would have made sure the bystanders were safe before undertaking violent actions against someone in such close proximity in a public place.

In Count Two, Ms. Vaught spells out in her complaint the trauma her daughter suffered from a getting a lung full of pepper spray and the child’s loss of appetite and nightmares.

Although Plaintiffs’ injuries to their eyes and respiratory systems were temporary, the same were extremely painful and the effects lingered for several days. Psychologically, the injures were more profound. Plaintiff Vaught sought to hold the Defendant Deputies responsible or at least secure an apology and assurance that this type of behavior would be punished. Instead, she met with official indifference to the assault she and her minor daughter suffered. Having lost her voice, she suffered, and still suffers from physical manifestations of her emotional distress including loss of appetite, loss of sleep, anxiety and stress. Similarly, H.Y. suffered from painful irritation to her eyes, nose, throat, and lungs in addition to headaches. More importantly, she suffered severe emotional trauma and now has a fear/distrust of males in general, and law enforcement and authority figures in particular. Her schoolwork suffered and she experienced loss of sleep, anxiety, and loss of appetite among other psychological symptoms.”

Count Three addresses the Cherokee County deputies’ unlawful assault and battery that in itself was reckless with absolutely no regard to other’s safety or welfare. Such disregard for human life is apparent in the County’s and Sheriff’s policymaking, therefore Ms. Vaught’s complaint shows the deputies’ actions that day meet the approval of Sheriff James Campbell. The fact is the Cherokee County sheriff never apologizes for anything his deputies engage in, whether it is beating those in custody, or his lead investigator caught red handed emailing lies about the Jacksonville police chief. Campbell’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been in effect since the days he and convicted child pornographer Harold ‘Bo’ Scallon stood watch over the Rusk Youth Center. (Source: Cherokeean Herald, March 3, 1983) The word “accountability” does not exist in Cherokee County lingo.

Count Four holds the Townsquare media organization negligent for hiring incompetent security who put the entire event at risk, as was done during the 2004 Tomato Bowl riot. The city of Jacksonville was forced to settle with those sustaining injuries in that preventable Homecoming football game melee. The Jacksonville Police Department was present during the Mudstock event and offered no assistance according to Janette Vaught’s tort claim. However, she is not suing the city, only members of the Sheriff Department and ATV pageant organizers.

We shall see if the US Eastern District again refuses to hold Cherokee County accountable for its documented and ongoing civil rights violations. We shall see if these homegrown judges find another battered woman and her minor daughter to be Cherokee County’s throw away collateral damage, since an underpaid deputy’s apology is out of the question.

(Source: Case 6:12-cv-00071, Janette Vaught and H.Y. a minor v. Cherokee County, Texas, Deputy Donald Williams, Unknown Sheriff’s Deputy, Sheriff James Campbell, and Townsquare Media, LLC)

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