A civil suit filed by a Waskom man against former Harrison County Sheriff’s deputy Charles “Chase” Dotson and two “bystander” officers in connection with an aggravated assault by a public servant incident has been dismissed after reaching a settlement in the amount of $325,000.
Attorneys for all parties announced that a settlement had been reached, three days after a jury trial kicked off in the matter before U.S. Magistrate Judge Roy Payne.
“We picked the jury on March 29. We tried the case for three days and the case was probably going to take about a week, but the morning of day-three all parties were able to find a resolution that everyone could live with,” said Waskom-based attorney Josh B. Maness, who represents the reported victim, 64-year-old Charles Edward Collins, in the case.
“Mr. Collins is glad this part is over and behind him, and hopes this never happens again,” Maness told the News Messenger Tuesday.
“This civil case should’ve been resolved a year-and-a-half ago because the evidence was so compelling,” he added, “but nonetheless we’re glad it’s behind us.”
Federal law allows a citizen to sue a member of law enforcement when they reportedly violate the person’s protective rights. Maness explained before that the lawsuit was all about accountability.
‘“Law enforcement, like everybody else, is not above the law,” he said previously.
Per the settlement agreement, the Texas Association of Counties, which provides liability insurance for county jails, will pay a total of $325,000 to resolve the claim against Dotson.
In the case, Collins, an oilfield consultant, alleged that then-Harrison County Sheriff’s deputy Dotson unconstitutionally arrested him and used excessive force during the arrest and that Ryan Roop and Caleb Oden, who were among the other officers present at the scene, did not intervene and thus were liable under a theory of bystander liability.
The Waskom resident initially filed an official oppression complaint in November 2018 against Dotson and subsequently followed it up with the civil lawsuit in January 2019 to compensate for his pain and suffering. He later amended the complaint, suing the additional officers individually for allegedly acting as “bystanders,” watching a restrained Collins get brutally attacked by Dotson “for no reasonable cause.”
The bystander officers, Roop and Oden have now, however, been granted immunity through the settlement agreement.
Per court documents, Collins and defendants Roop and Oden, through their counsel, jointly filed an “agreed take nothing judgment,” relieving them from owing anything.
“We agreed that they didn’t do anything wrong,” Maness said of the agreement concerning the bystander officers, Roop and Oden.
Maness thanked his co-counsel, Brendan Roth, for his assistance in the case.
“I certainly appreciate his help,” said Maness.
He noted that the civil case has not interfered with the criminal case that’s currently pending against Dotson in the same matter.
In the criminal matter, Dotson was initially indicted May 2019 on a misdemeanor official oppression charge arising out of the same facts as the civil suit, filed by Collins. During a re-indictment in December 2019, the charges were then upgraded to a felony of aggravated assault by a public servant and a third-degree felony of tampering with physical evidence with intent to impair.
“The criminal case against Dotson will still proceed,” said Maness.
Regarding the civil suit, Maness said he had the chance to visit with jurors, following the dismissal of the civil case. After viewing the video of the incident, which was made public in 2019, all agreed there needed to be some accountability.
“The video evidence has obviously been out for a while and I did speak with half the jurors before they left the courthouse and all of them agreed that what Dotson did was unreasonable and unjustified,” Maness told the News Messenger.
According to the lawsuit, under no threat to himself, Dotson violated Collins’ Fourth and 15th amendment right to be free from excessive force. The lawsuit notes that the alleged misconduct occurred while Dotson was acting in his capacity as a law enforcement officer with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office.
The reported misconduct took place on Nov. 22, 2018, in the wee hours of Thanksgiving Day, after a complainant called authorities and asked for assistance at Collins’ residence that he shared with his fiancé, near Waskom.
“On or about November 22, 2018, Charles Collins was at his residence. Mr. Collins had become irritated and broke a rear sliding door and some small belongings in the residence,” the lawsuit said.
Collins then went to sleep. Sometime after that, his girlfriend’s daughter arrived and became alarmed by the damage she saw to the living room area, the lawsuit said.
“Unsure of what had occurred, she called law enforcement for assistance,” the lawsuit states. “She then made contact with her mother, Mr. Collins’ girlfriend, who told her that law enforcement assistance was not necessary.”
Several deputies arrived to the scene. The lawsuit goes on to say that after getting Collins out of bed and interviewing him about what had occurred, Collins told deputies that he would stay at home and handle the damage the next day. Collins’ girlfriend, who talked with deputies separately, said she would stay with her daughter the remainder of the night and return to the residence the next morning.
“The deputies stayed for well over an hour. At no point in time has there ever been any allegation of any type of domestic abuse between Mr. Collins and his girlfriend,” the lawsuit said.
Despite that fact, the lawsuit claims that the defendant, Dotson, ultimately told Collins and his girlfriend that he was going to arrest Collins so Collins could “sleep it off” and that she could bond him out the next day and pay a small fine.
“Mr. Collins’ girlfriend pressed one of the other deputies as to what the charges were and he was unable to answer her,” the lawsuit states. “Rather, he stated he would have to go ask Deputy Dotson.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that Collins was cuffed behind his back and placed in to the back of Dotson’s patrol vehicle.
“Deputy Dotson drove at a high rate of speed, in excess of 100 mph, to the Harrison County jail annex,” the lawsuit states.
It was at the jail annex where the alleged excessive force took place.
“Upon arrival at the annex, the assisting deputies as well as a jailer were waiting for Collins’ arrival at the sally port with a wheelchair,” the lawsuit states.
Cooperating with their commands, Collins exited the vehicle and sat in the awaiting wheelchair where his legs where strapped to the leg braces.
“At this point, Deputy Dotson began to repeatedly and violently strike Mr. Collins about the face and upper body,” the lawsuit said. “This was done without any threat to the safety or welfare of any of the attending law enforcement personnel.”
The lawsuit points out that this was all done with Collins’ legs strapped to the wheelchair — but also with his hands still restrained by handcuffs behind his back.
“Blood immediately began to pour down Mr. Collins’ face,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit goes on to say that once booked into the jail, Collins asked to be transported to the local hospital, as he feared he might succumb to his injuries — especially considering the fact he was taking prescription blood thinners.
“Finally, after repeated requests, jail staff transported him to Christus GSMC Marshall for evaluation,” the lawsuit said.
After receiving medical attention at the hospital, Collins was then taken to the downtown jail facility inside of the Harrison County courthouse, where his girlfriend was able to bond him out the following morning after he pleaded not guilty to all charges during his arraignment, the lawsuit said.
About two weeks later, Deputy Dotson resigned his position from the department amid an investigation that was launched to look into whether Dotson had committed the crime of official oppression against the rights of Collins.
According to the lawsuit, Dotson’s exercise of the established policies and customs of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office violated the plaintiff’s clearly established constitutional rights, including the right to due process by law; freedom from unreasonable seizure of his person; freedom from the use of unreasonable, unnecessary, and excessive force; and the right to medical care without delay for injuries received while in custody.
“Defendant Dotson willfully, deliberately, maliciously, or acted with reckless disregard for Plaintiff’s constitutional rights,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit goes on to say that Dotson deprived Collins of his Fourth Amendment rights and those rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution incorporated and applied to the states through the 14th Amendment by the reasons stated before and by using excessive force in the course of attempted custody of the plaintiff.
“Plaintiff therefore pleads he was unlawfully beaten and harmed,” the lawsuit said. “Such actions resulted directly and only from the use of force clearly excessive to the need, and the excessiveness of which was objectively reasonable.”
“In light of the fact Charles Collins was already restrained prior to being brutally beaten and not resisting arrest by defendant, it is initially absurd the defendant would deem force was warranted and/or required,” the lawsuit said.
“Furthermore, Mr. Collins was not armed with any kind of weapon,” the lawsuit said. “For these other reasons, it was objectively unreasonable for Charles Dotson to beat savagely and brutally assault Charles Collins on the occasion described.”
“The savage beating of a defenseless detainee restrained in handcuffs and confined to a wheelchair is never reasonable,” the lawsuit said.
In the civil case, Collins asked for actual and compensatory damages as determined at a trial on the merits; mental anguish damages; punitive damages in an amount to punish and/or deter, and to make an example of the defendant, in order to prevent similar future conduct.
Dotson was represented by David Iglesias and Stephanie Ernst in the case. Robert Davis and Lee Correa represented Roop and Oden.