A federal judge in the civil lawsuit filed against a former Harrison County sheriff’s deputy, stemming from an alleged official oppression incident, has denied the defendant’s motion to halt proceedings, pending his state criminal case.
The defendant, Charles “Chase” Dotson, was indicted on state criminal charges arising out of the same facts as the civil suit, filed by plaintiff Charles Edward Collins.
Dotson along with co-defendant and former jailer, Ryan Roop, had filed a motion on Feb. 11 to “stay” proceedings, pending the state’s criminal prosecution.
Because the criminal charges brought against Dotson and Roop are based on events that prompted the civil litigation and have now upgraded from misdemeanor to felony charges, attorneys for the co-defendants asked for civil proceedings to halt, so they can vigorously defend themselves in the criminal case.
The defendants argued that the only prejudice the plaintiff would suffer if stay was granted in the civil case would be a delay in the plaintiff’s right to expeditiously pursue his claim.
“Mr. Dotson and Mr. Roop, however, would be forced to choose between actively participating in this litigation and mounting a vigorous defense to charges, which carry them the potential of lengthy sentences in a penitentiary,” their legal teams said in the motion to delay the civil suit. “Therefore, they now respectfully request that the Court stay these proceedings.”
Making his ruling on the matter, Presiding U.S. Magistrate Judge Roy Payne issued an order this past Tuesday, March 17, to move forward with the civil case.
“Discovery in this civil case has been proceeding notwithstanding the criminal charges and Mr. Dotson gave his deposition in July 2019,” the judge’s order regarding Dotson stated.
“At this point there is no showing of any interference by this civil litigation with Mr. Dotson’s defense in the criminal prosecution,” said Judge Payne.
Thus, “the motion to stay this case is denied, without prejudice to Mr. Dotson’s right to raise any issues that may arise in the future,” the order continues.
“If the criminal charges are still pending at the time of trial in this matter, the Court will address how to handle those issues before the jury,” Judge Payne said.
Trial for the civil case is set for July 20.
New Criminal Charges
The defendants’ motion to stay noted that Dotson was initially indicted on misdemeanor charges in May 2019. Charges were then upgraded to a felony during a re-indictment in December 2019.
The motion notes the upgrade of charges, going from the initial Class A misdemeanor official oppression charge to a now first-degree felony of aggravated assault by a public servant and a third-degree felony of tampering with physical evidence with intent to impair.
The initial Class A misdemeanor only carried a sentence of up to one year in jail. Dotson now faces imprisonment of five to 99 years or life for the first-degree felony charge. He faces two to 10 years in prison for the third-degree felony.
Co-defendant, Roop, was indicted for the second-degree felony of tampering with evidence, and now faces two to 20 years imprisonment.
According to Dotson’s new indictment for aggravated assault by a public servant, Dotson intentionally, knowingly and recklessly caused serious bodily injury to Collins by striking him with his hand while acting under the color of his office as a deputy.
According to the indictment for tampering with physical evidence, knowing that an assault had been committed, Dotson allegedly altered, destroyed or concealed a digital recording with intent to impair its verity, legibility or availability as evidence in any subsequent investigation or official proceeding related to the offense.
“Mr. Dotson is now working with a team of criminal defense attorneys to vigorously defend himself from these serious charges,” his motion to delay the civil case states.
More Defense Arguments
Attorney’s explained that Roop’s situation is now different due to a recent career change where he works as a defense contractor in Afghanistan, handling dogs in support of US military operations. Thus, his return is unknown.
Additionally, Dotson and Roop had an interest in delaying the civil trial to avoid exposing their criminal defense strategy to the prosecution in their criminal case, their counsel said.
“They seek this stay not solely for the purpose of delay, but that justice may be done,” their attorneys said.
Opposing their motion to stay proceedings, Josh Maness, representing the plaintiff, argued that the tactic appears to be another attempt to deny Collins the justice he deserves.
In his response to the defendant’s motion to stay proceedings, Maness noted that his client filed the suit, seeking justice because former deputy Dotson “gave Mr. Collins a vicious beating” on Nov. 22, 2018.
The lawsuit alleges that he punched Collins in the head and face eight times while Collins was restrained in handcuffs with his hands behind his back and held by his arms by co-defendant Roop, and jailers Oden and Jonathan Smith. The civil lawsuit was filed more than a year ago, on Jan. 14, 2019. Collins subsequently filed his third amended complaint in which he dismissed claims against jailer Smith under an agreement amongst the parties.
The plaintiff argued that while deputy Dotson justifies his request for a stay by citing Fifth Amendment concerns, both Dotson and Roop have already testified in a deposition under oath on July 10, 2019, two months after his initial indictment.
Maness also argued that Dotson has been working with criminal defense counsel way before his second indictment.
“The fact that additional charges have been made against Deputy Dotson after the initial charge does not entitle him to a stay in this case, when he has proven that he is very capable of exercising his Fifth Amendment rights, as he has already done so in his deposition,” Maness contended.
Regarding Deputy Roop, the plaintiff asserts a bystander liability claim against Roop because he allegedly stood by and watched without taking measures to protect Collins.
“These assertions, which concern Deputy Roop’s failure to intervene while Deputy Dotson was beating Mr. Collins, have little to no overlap with any tampering with evidence that forms the basis of this criminal charge,” said Maness.
He further argued that Deputy Roop knew when he accepted the job in Afghanistan that he had this pending civil rights case against him, and went anyway.
“Deputy Dotson and Deputy Roop have no more desire to ‘face the music’ in this civil case than they do in their criminal case, especially since their legal fees in this case are being paid by Harrison County or its insurer,” Maness said.
Maness said, even now, his 63-year-old client still has a drooped eye, numbness in the right side of his face and hearing loss in his right ear as a result of the alleged beating. Thus, for a man of Collins’ age and health, “he will be prejudiced by an indefinite stay of his case,” Maness said.
The plaintiff’s attorney further argued that although this case is an action by private parties, it involves allegations that are certainly of interest to the public.
“There is an undeniable public interest in maintaining and/or restoring the integrity of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office. The subject matter of the current lawsuit goes to the core of that issue,” Maness said.
Dotson is being represented by attorney David Iglesias, of Iglesias Law Firm PLLC, of Tyler, in the civil case. Attorney Robert S. Davis, of Flowers Davis PLLC, of Tyler, is representing Roop and co-defendant Caleb Oden. Attorney Josh Maness, of Waskom, is representing the plaintiff, Collins.