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Bevill v. City of Quitman

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

December 3, 2019

TERRY BEVILL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF QUITMAN, TEXAS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Tom Castloo, James “Jim” Wheeler and Wood County's Motion to Transfer Venue (Dkt. #22).

         After reviewing the pleadings, motion, response, and reply, the Court finds the motion should be DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         At the time the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred, Plaintiff Terry Bevill was the Captain of the Quitman Police Department (“Quitman PD”) and an instructor at the Kilgore Police Academy. On or around February 8, 2017, while Plaintiff still occupied his position with Quitman PD, a man named David McGee (“Mr. McGee”) was arrested and charged with facilitating or permitting the escape of an inmate from the Wood County jail and with tampering with government records while employed as a Wood County jail administrator. Mr. McGee's arrest apparently attracted pretrial publicity in the area.

         Recognizing the publicity of the circumstances surrounding his arrest and the fact that he would stand trial in Wood County, on or around June 2, 2017, Mr. McGee asked Plaintiff if he would consider signing an affidavit in support of his motion to change venue. Mr. McGee did not believe he would receive a fair and impartial trial in Wood County. Plaintiff shared this belief, and he spoke to Mr. McGee's lawyer about signing the affidavit. The affidavit set forth two primary reasons for Mr. McGee's requested venue change: (1) pretrial publicity, and (2) alleged personal relationships between Sheriff Tom Castloo (“Sheriff Castloo”), Wood County District Attorney James Wheeler (“DA Wheeler”), and State District Judge Jeff Fletcher (“Judge Fletcher”). The material portions of the affidavit, which Plaintiff executed on June 2, 2017, are reproduced below.

My name is TERRY BEVILL. I am currently the Quitman Police Department Captain and the former Jail Administrator for Hopkins County, and a formal investigator with Wood County Sherriff's office. I am over the age of 18 and competent to make this oath.
I believe it will not be possible for DAVID MCGEE to get a fair and impartial trial in Wood County, Texas due to the pre-trial publicity involved in this case and the personal relationship between the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and the Presiding Judge in this matter. I am very familiar with the close relationships between these influential persons, and DAVID MCGEE will be greatly prejudiced by having a trial in Wood County.
It is not possible for DAVID MCGEE to obtain a fair and impartial trial in Wood County, Texas because there is a dangerous combination against Defendant instigated by influential persons that a fair and impartial trial cannot be obtained.
This suit should be heard in RAINS County, Texas, where it is possible to obtain a fair and impartial trial.

(Dkt. #38).

         Mr. McGee's attorney filed the motion to change venue with Plaintiff's affidavit and affidavits from Mayra McGee and Mr. McGee, which were similar to Plaintiff's. And it was the events that followed the filing of the motion to change venue that gave rise to Plaintiff's complaint. Apparently, shortly after the motion was filed, Sheriff Castloo, DA Wheeler, and Judge Fletcher approached City of Quitman Mayor, David Dobbs (“Mayor Dobbs”), to discuss Plaintiff's affidavit and his continued employment with Quitman PD. Plaintiff claims that Sheriff Castloo, DA Wheeler, and Judge Fletcher threatened to retaliate against the city of Quitman by withholding Wood County resources and support for Quitman PD if Plaintiff was not fired for the affidavit he signed in support of Mr. McGee's motion.

         Quitman Police Chief, Kelly Cole (“Chief Cole”), supposedly objected to Plaintiff's termination, preferring instead to handle the matter internally. Plaintiff claims Mayor Dobbs's response was to put the pressure on Chief Cole by passing along Sheriff Castloo, DA Wheeler, and Judge Fletcher's threats to withhold resources from the City and from Quitman PD if Plaintiff was not fired.

         On or about June 8, 2017, Chief Cole informed Plaintiff that he was being placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. Shortly thereafter, on June 21, 2017, Plaintiff was fired. Chief Cole presented Plaintiff with the findings from the investigation that ultimately led to his termination. The investigation revealed that Plaintiff's actions violated certain Quitman PD policies. The policies Plaintiff is alleged to have violated are reproduced in full below.

Chapter 11, Section 11.20.3 - Members of the Department shall not take part or be concerned, either directly or indirectly, in making or negotiating any compromise or arrangement for any criminal or person to escape the penalty of law. Employees shall not seek to obtain any continuance of any trial in court out of friendship for the Defendant or otherwise interfere with the courts of justice. This section shall not be construed as preventing an employee from cooperating with the city attorney or the prosecuting attorney in altering any charge, or other action, in the furtherance of justice in any case he/she may be concerned with as the arresting or investigating officer.
Chapter 12 (code of conduct standard 4.9) - Peace officers shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which does not discredit the Peace Officer profession or their employing agency.

(Dkt. #38).

         The day following Plaintiff's termination, Sheriff Castloo, DA Wheeler, Judge Fletcher, and Chief Cole attended a Quitman City Council meeting. There, Sheriff Castloo discussed the details surrounding Plaintiff's affidavit and a newspaper article from the Wood County Monitor publicizing those details. According to Plaintiff, the meeting minutes indicated that Sheriff Castloo was disappointed in the city's lack of a public response to Plaintiff's affidavit and thought the city should refute Plaintiff's statements expressed in the affidavit and do more to support the DA's office, the Sherriff's office, and Judge Fletcher in the matter. Moreover, the Wood County Monitor reported that Sheriff Castloo also told the City Council: “I understand you have taken some steps. I understand more steps need to be taken” (Dkt. #38).

         Mr. McGee's motion to transfer venue was eventually denied, and after a two-day trial in Judge Fletcher's court, a jury found him guilty. At the conclusion of Mr. McGee's trial, Judge Fletcher announced in open court that he was issuing a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest for aggravated perjury, which is a felony offense. Judge Fletcher called Plaintiff's statements in Mr. McGee's affidavit “lie[s], plain and simple, ” “reprehensible, ” and “disrespectful of every law enforcement officer and officer of the court who do their best each day.” In response to the warrant for his arrest, Plaintiff voluntarily turned himself in. Judge Fletcher apparently set bond at $20, 000, which was later reduced to $10, 000, and required that Plaintiff satisfy the following bond conditions: (1) turn over all of his firearms; (2) submit to drug testing every two weeks at a cost of $20 per test; (3) obtain prior written permission from the Wood County Community Supervision and Corrections Department or the court before leaving Wood County; (4) report to the Wood County Community Supervision and Corrections Department every two weeks; and (5) abstain from the use of alcohol. According to Plaintiff, he complied with each bond condition.

         Plaintiff's felony charges were pending for the next sixteen months. Plaintiff alleges that DA Wheeler refused to bring his case before a grand jury in an effort to unnecessarily prolong the conspiracy in retaliation for Plaintiff having submitted the affidavit for Mr. McGee. By October 2018, the Texas Rangers began investigating DA Wheeler for official oppression. DA Wheeler ultimately resigned his office in lieu of the risk of facing prosecution. Ten days after DA Wheeler resigned, Plaintiff's case was submitted to a grand jury. On October 31, 2018, the grand jury no-billed Plaintiff for the aggravated perjury charge.

         II. ...


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