They threatened him, they targeted him, and then they burned his house down and ran him out of town.
A gay white man and parent of an adopted 7-year-old Black child, Randy Gamel-Medler has sued officials in Hitchcock, a small western Oklahoma town, alleging racial and sexual discrimination.
The harassment that began last fall culminated on May 28, when Gamel-Medler heard what sounded like glass breaking in his garage, according to the complaint. His garage had been set on fire, and the house burned to the ground. The mayor, his wife, and other town officials allegedly watched while firefighters a block away failed to respond until it was too late, court documents state.
“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?” Gamel-Medler said in a press release from Freedom Oklahoma, a civil rights organization that is supporting him in the case.
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Filed Thursday, the complaint “read[s] like a crime novel” and the incidents that led up to it are “shocking,” Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, told Rewire.
The incidents began last September, a month after Gamel-Medler, then the town clerk, brought his son to live with him in Hitchcock. Gamel-Medler says they ranged from racial slurs to threats.
“What’s going to happen when your house burns down and we don’t send out the fire trucks?” said Meradith Norris, a town trustee, after learning Gamel-Medler had a Black son, according to the complaint. This was reportedly said at a town meeting in the presence of the mayor and other trustees.
Gamel-Medler filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma after filing a police report with the former Blaine County sheriff last year that went nowhere. The lawsuit names Hitchcock Mayor Rick Edsall, Sheriff Tony Almaguer, Undersheriff David Robertson, and Norris among the nine defendants.
In early May, Gamel-Medler was working to clear an obstruction from the road when he says he was assaulted by defendant Jonita Pauls Jacks, who tried to forcefully enter Gamel-Medler’s truck, called him a “f***ing queer,” and said, “I’m going to grab your little boy, rip his nigger head off, and shit down his throat.”
When Gamel-Medler tried to file a police report, the deputy sheriff refused to take a report and characterized the incident as “free speech,” the complaint states.
This was followed, Gamel-Medler says, by defendants throwing gravel several times at Gamel-Medler’s home, posting a sign outside the post office that read “The town clerk is a “f*cking queer,” and attempting to run a friend of his off the road on May 26.
According to the complaint, Kenny Meier, husband of town trustee Patsy Meier, drove past and “flipped off” Gamel-Medler and his friend. Patsy arrived and asked, “We haven’t run you off yet?”
Deputy Bob Kissimee pulled Gamel-Medler aside, the plaintiff says, with a warning: “These people are serious. They’re going to kill you, they’re going to kill your son and they’re going to burn your house down.” Undersheriff Robertson advised Gamel-Medler to leave town with his son, according to the complaint.
Gamel-Medler, who was forced to give up his job and relocate to Texas, says he was targeted for being gay and for bringing a Black kid to an all-white town. Census data counted one Black resident in Hitchcock in 2010.
Blaine County Undersheriff David Robertson called Gamel-Medler a bully who clashed with longtime locals. An arson investigation is ongoing, according to the Associated Press.
Mayor Edsall, who is among the defendants listed, denied there was any homophobia or racism involved, in a News 9 TV report Sunday.
“I’ve got half-nieces that are half-Black,” Edsall said on TV. “I mean, we are not racist. We don’t care if you’re gay or anything else. We’re not that way.”
Freedom Oklahoma headed to Hitchcock Monday to file records requests. The organization is calling on the FBI, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and the state fire marshal to investigate, Stevenson said.
Other civil rights groups are also supporting Gamel-Medler and calling for change in Oklahoma.
“This abhorrent incident underscores the urgent need for our communities and public officials to commit to combating the epidemic of hate-based violence that continues to plague too many in the LGBTQ community,” said Robin Maril from Human Rights Campaign in a statement.
“No family should live in fear or have to endure harassment and threats based on racism and homophobia,” said Shannon Price Minter, from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in the release. “We must hold those government officials, members of law enforcement, and others accountable.”
Stevenson told Rewire that he hopes the lawsuit will bring some sort of justice to a family that has lost everything they had in the fire, from furniture to family photographs. The ultimate hope is to enact laws that protect Black, LGBTQ, and all residents from hate.
“The allegations are horrific. What is does for other Oklahomans is, it highlights the absolute need for bias crime protections,” he said.