WICHITA FALLS, Texas (CN) – Two employees filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming an indicted Texas county commissioner intimidates his workers by recklessly pointing a pistol at them, pulling the trigger and laughing.
Steve Crowley and Douglas Stack sued Clay County and Commissioner Richard S. Keen in Wichita Falls federal court, claiming they reasonably fear for their lives. They are represented by Houston attorney David Feldman.
The men say they are members of a county work crew connected with Keen’s duties of maintaining and constructing county roads. They claim Keen “has openly brandished and pointed” his pistols at them and other county employees “with the intent of causing them to fear for their lives and to intimidate them into submission.”
They say examples of Keen’s “erratic and life-threatening gunplay” are numerous, describing an incident in February 2017 where Keen allegedly pulled a 9mm pistol on non-party Danny Ellis, who had reported to Keen’s office to receive his daily duties.
“Mr. Ellis, shocked and confused and in fear for his life, raised his hands and asked Commissioner Keen whether it was loaded,” the 14-page complaint states. “Commissioner Keen proceeded to eject a chambered round from the gun and laughed at Mr. Ellis as he backed away with his hands raised up in an act of surrender.
The lawsuit continues, “Moments later, Mr. Crowley also entered Keen’s office to receive his day’s duties. As Mr. Crowley turned around to exit his office, Commissioner Keen raised his handgun once more, pointing it at Mr. Crowley’s back, and then pulled the trigger.”
When asked why he pointed the gun at them, Keen’s response amounted to little more than he felt like doing it, according to the complaint.
Crowley claims Keen has since pointed guns at his back and “dry-fired” them several times. He alleges Keen has threatened him with being shot “merely for suggesting an alternative way of performing their work.”
Clay County officials did not immediately respond to an email request for comment sent Tuesday evening. The county is located immediately east of Wichita Falls along the Texas-Oklahoma border, about 120 miles northwest of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Crowley and Stack say that after an investigation into their allegations by the Texas Rangers, Keen was indicted on three misdemeanor counts of deadly conduct in December and is free on a $7,500 bond.
They claim the intimidation has continued, with Stack alleging he has been contacted by a private investigator who allegedly acts on Keen’s behalf. The two employees allege county officials have failed to take any remedial action against Keen in spite of his alleged misconduct and indictment.
“The county’s failure to act is particularly egregious in light of recent national tragedies involving shooters who displayed ‘warning signs’ well before their habits of bizarre gunplay turned deadly,” the complaint states.
Stack claims Keen has pointed a gun at his feet several times and dry-fired it for no reason, causing him to “shuffle his feet out of anxiety that Keen’s weapon” could fire.
“As a matter of common sense, pointing a weapon at another person and then pulling the trigger, whether the handler of the weapon believes the weapon to be loaded or unloaded, presents an obvious risk of serious bodily injury or death,” the complaint states. “Keen’s handling of the firearms serves no other purpose but to inspire fear, terror and apprehension in plaintiffs (or whoever else may be nearby), making them wonder whether they may be shot.” (Parentheses in original.)
Crowley and Stack claim Keen fires his loaded gun “into the sky, trees, ditches and rocks” while out on the job in a reckless show of power, causing the work crew to retreat from the scene. They say they do not know if he will one day “knowingly or unknowingly” pull the trigger on a loaded gun on them on a whim.
The county workers allege the danger of Keen’s gunplay is exacerbated by his other forms of “violent, erratic” behavior. They claim he throws heavy equipment and tools around the shop when displeased and threatens employees with physical violence if they disagree with him over trivial matters or commit small mistakes.
“He has engaged in at least one physical altercation with a former employee and threatened to shoot him had his gun been nearby,” the complaint states. “Commissioner Keen has deemed it appropriate to jab Mr. Crowley in the stomach with the pointed end of his knife, laughing off his obviously violent and threatening conduct as nothing more than good-natured horseplay.”
Crowley and Stack seek an injunction barring Keen from coming within 500 feet of them. They allege violations of their due process rights, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Even though Keen, a Republican, was defeated in this month’s primary election and will not be re-elected, the plaintiffs say they still fear for their safety for the remainder of his term, which ends Jan. 1, 2019.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Feldman, did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Tuesday evening.