Metro Weekly

Oklahoma gay man files civil rights lawsuit after home is burned to the ground

Randy Gamel-Medler says authorities did nothing to protect his family from months of harassment and threats

Photo: Richard Wallace, via Wikimedia.

An Oklahoma gay man has filed a federal equal protection lawsuit against nine defendants, including several local police and government officials, alleging that they failed to respond as he and his family were subjected to racist and homophobic threats and harassment.

The lawsuit also includes charges for assault, battery, destruction of real and personal property, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Randy Gamel-Medler was first threatened in September 2016 at a town council meeting one month after he and his family moved to Hitchcock, Okla. After learning that he has an African-American son, defendant Meradith Norris, a town trustee, asked, “What’s going to happen when your house burns down and we don’t send out the fire trucks?”

Gamel-Medler filed a police report, but no criminal action was taken.

In May 2017, Gamel-Medler, in his capacity as town clerk, was clearing an obstruction from the road when he was assaulted by defendant Jonita Pauls Jacks, who tried to enter Gamel-Medler’s truck. Upon finding it locked, she began shaking the truck, calling him a “fucking queer” and said “I’m going to grab your little boy, rip his nigger head off, and shit down his throat.” When Gamel-Medler attempted to file a police report, the deputy sheriff refused to accept the report, characterizing the incident as a form of free speech.

On May 28, Gamel-Medler heard glass breaking in his garage and called to report a burglary. He later saw a fire in the garage and called the fire department, who didn’t arrive on scene until his house had completely burned down — even though the fire department is located one block away from the house. While the house was burning, a number of the defendants, including Hitchcock Mayor Rick Edsall, sat in lawn chairs and watched as the house burned down.

“When our family moved to the town of Hitchcock in rural Oklahoma we thought we were buying our last house, we wanted to know our neighbors by their first names and grow old together, but we were soon met with hatred, suspicion, and discrimination,” Gamel-Medler said in a statement. “We were terrorized, murder threats were made against our seven year-old African-American son. Town officials conspired to run us out of office, all while local law enforcement ignored our pleas for help. We are now left with the last 27 years of our life literally erased. What do we do now?”

Following the house’s burning, one or more of the defendants threw gravel at Gamel-Medler’s home, posted a sign outside of the post office stating that “the town clerk is a fucking queer,” and even attempted to run a friend of Gamel-Medler’s off the road.

“The horrific treatment of this man and his child are a terrible reminder of how hatred and bigotry feed off of each other,” Mark Hammons, Gamel-Medler’s attorney, said in a statement. “I hope this lawsuit will bring justice for him and social awareness for everyone.”

“No family should live in fear or have to endure harassment and threats based on racism and homophobia,” Shannon Price Minter, the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “We must hold those government officials, members of law enforcement, and others accountable.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com