Lawsuit filed over oilfield lease dispute on former sheriff’s land

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A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday concerning the alleged shooting incident two years ago over access to an oilfield lease on former Wood County Sheriff Jim Brown’s property northwest of Quitman.

The suit was filed by Messer, Rockefeller & Fort Law firm on Wednesday in United States District Court Eastern District, Tyler Division, and a copy of the suit and a press release was provided to media outlets that day.

Defendants listed are Wood County, Brown, Miles Tucker, Kelly Smith, Kevin Atkinson, Stephen Cates, John Hammack and Jerry Boone. All of the law enforcement officers – Brown, Tucker, Smith, Atkinson and Cates - are formerly with the sheriff’s department and are named in their individual capacity.

Plaintiffs are Winston Forrester, John Forrester, James Terry, Jason Webb, Alberto Rodriguez, Jason Smith, Robert Benninger and Joshua Howell. The suit alleges an “unconstitutional use of excessive force, illegal arrest and state claims” and is asking for attorney fees and damages.

Winston and John Forrester are the men who Boone allegedly shot in a dispute over access to an oilfield lease on the former sheriff’s property off County Road 1326.

Boone is set to stand trial on criminal charges in Wood County District Court next week. Tucker turned himself in on two warrants last month concerning the matter on charges of tampering with evidence and official oppression. The warrants were issued after a special investigator was brought in on the case and the district judge issued a gag order on the Tucker case. The shooting was originally investigated by the Texas Rangers.

On Sunday afternoon, neither Brown nor Smith had been served with copies of the new federal lawsuit. Wood County Judge Bryan Jeanes, who is named as the county representative, was out of his office until after Monitor press time.

The suit states that Forrester purchased the Blackwell lease, mineral rights, on Brown’s property on Oct. 1, 2015. It claims that shortly after Forrester had difficulty accessing the property, including “to recover millions of dollars worth of equipment he had rented that had been stranded in the mud on the Blackwell lease following a heavy rainstorm.” It recounts events from an encounter on Oct. 24, 2015 between Hammack, an employee of Brown’s, and Forrester, as well as subsequent encounters involving all of the other law enforcement officers named as well as an alleged shooting by Boone.

The suit alleges a campaign of harassment, intimidation and abuse of office against Forrester for 10 months and states that the alleged encounters were under Brown’s directive. It also alleges that intimidation included the issuing of a ticket for criminal mischief by Kelly Smith, a former lieutenant with the WCSO, and Atkinson, who said they had been directed by Tucker to arrest Forrester.

It also alleges that Tucker threatened Forrester that the criminal mischief charge would be enhanced to a felony after Forrest sought an injunction is district court. The suit states that Tucker submitted a complaint that resulted in a felony warrant for Winston Forrester that resulted in his eventual arrest in Titus County “under authority of the retaliatory arrest warrant.” It stated that Forrester had never been indicted for the charge that was “upon information and belief, brought by the order of Sheriff Brown.”

Brown said Sunday evening, “Although I have not yet been served, which I think is by design, I obtained a copy of the pleadings from a third party. After reading it I can tell you that the allegations made in this suit are preposterous, ridiculous and are laced with blatant lies. I look forward to litigating this matter in order that the facts will be known.”

When he learned of the suit Smith, who now serves as a constable, said it names deputies who didn’t have anything to do with the situation, “me included.”

“I have not been served but the county sent it to me. It’s very inaccurate. I never made an arrest (as was alleged in the suit) and was not there at the scene of the shooting.” He also said that he had testified to the grand jury on the state case as a witness and that his decision not to arrest Forrester had been affirmed by other officials.

The Monitor has left a message with Robert Davis of Flowers and Davis law firm who is representing the county in the matter, but had not heard back from him by press time.

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