FLASH STAFF REPORT
ERATH COUNTY (July 9, 2017) – In case you missed it, on Wednesday, July 5, local law enforcement and county sheriff’s office employees Randy Fowler and Jason Upshaw, who were fired amid controversy this year, have filed a lawsuit against new county sheriff Matt Coates (both in his official capacity as well as individually) and the county itself, to include County Commissioners Dee Stephens, Herbert Brown, Joe Brown and Scot Jackson in their official capacity.
Fowler and Upshaw are suing the county and Coates for disseminating false and stigmatizing information. Claiming the firing has prevented them from earning a living in law enforcement, “the only profession for which he is trained.”
Copies of the lawsuit sent to county officials state the plaintiffs are requesting their attorney fees be paid as well as pay from before the termination from the effective date of suspension through termination, compensation damages, actual damages from “mental anguish resulting from the knowing, intentional and malicious deprivation of his constitutionally protected rights and damages to his professional and personal career, lost wages and future earning capacity.”
According to a copy of the lawsuit notification presented to those involved in the incident, before Coates became sheriff he’d been reported for his behavior by the officers named in the lawsuit. After his appointment as interim, Coates “suspended the plaintiff without pay because the plaintiff was allegedly “under investigation.” When the plaintiff asked why he was under investigation, Coates did not tell him. Subsequently, Coates, a Texas Ranger and representatives from the Erath County Treasurer’s Office, and representatives from the Erath County Clerk’s Office and County Commissioners were present to escort the plaintiff out of the Sheriff’s office in a hostile and humiliating manner, creating an impression of wrongdoing…
“Moreover, Coates published, or caused to be published, highly stigmatizing information to local news outlets… Subsequently, on or about December 20, 2016, Coates terminated the plaintiff. Instead of honorably discharging the plaintiff, Coates gave him a “General Discharge” and published this information to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. The manner of and circumstances around, the plaintiff’s termination have so stigmatized the plaintiff that his reputation has been irreparably harmed causing him severe emotional distress and mental anguish and employment opportunities have been substantially foreclosed to him.”
This lawsuit will hinge on if the county and Coates deprived Fowler and Upshaw of their civil rights and due process because of the firing and the manner of said firing.
The lawsuit claims “because of an unfounded and unspecified accusation against him, without due process of law, the defendants, acting under color of law, caused the plaintiff to suffer the general opprobrium of his community and to endure a severe stigma on his professional and personal reputation in the eyes of his professional peers, the general geographic community, and the wider community of the law enforcement profession.”
No trial date has been set and Erath County officials have not commented on the case.