Recently, inForney.com broke the news that Kaufman County Deputy Constable, Grant Cousins, had pled guilty to perjury stemming from an investigation done by the Texas Rangers involving allegations of sexual assault of a woman that occurred at a gravel pit located in Kaufman county. The allegations stem from an evening when, according to the report, Deputy Cousins had the woman in his patrol car “looking for narcotics locations”. This raises real concerns for the Constable’s office, Kaufman County, and the Kaufman County citizenry (because they could be on the hook for any settlement proceeds the County may have to pay out to settle her claims).
So, if the alleged victim were to sue Kaufman county, what would the lawsuit be about? It will likely be a Section 1983 claim found under federal law. Deputy Cousins is a Deputy Constable and would therefore be considered a “state actor” for purposes of the Statute. There is a lot of interesting case law on this issue, because believe it or not, police officer malfeasance of this sort is not that uncommon, but one case in particular has stood out to me. In Fontana v. Haskins, that case dealt with a woman who had been arrested and was therefore in the custody of the police at the time of the alleged malfeasance. Apparently, officer Haskins made unwanted advances and attempted to touch Fontana inappropriately without her consent.
The Court discussed the case under fourth amendment and fourteenth amendment grounds and whether the federal district court had properly granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant officer. They concluded that the district court had erred in their ruling and allowed the case to move forward for trial. What is particularly interesting for our purposes is that (1) the Court discussed the behavior as fourteenth amendment violations, i.e. violation of due process, conduct that shocks the conscience. They noted that while sexual misconduct of an officer of an arrested person implicates the fourth amendment, when a police officer commits a sexual offense to a general person, i.e., regular citizen, the court analyzes it under the fourteenth amendment.
There have been many successful cases against police officers and their employers, police departments, sheriff’s departments and the like, for damages resulting from sexual assaults by police officers. For Kaufman County, this is just another black mark on the county’s reputation. It seems as though the only time people outside of Kaufman County hear anything about our local government, it is always something terrible that has happened, such as voter fraud, stealing money from cities and fire departments, and now we have this. To make matters worse, this story is breaking amidst the fatal shooting of Botham Jean by a Dallas Police Officer, the conviction of Roy Oliver, a Balch Springs officer in connection with the shooting death of a 15 year old boy while he was attempting to leave a party.
There is also the issue of why Constable Cousins was allowed to plead to a perjury before a grand jury could have an opportunity to indict him. This whole story smells, and for the people of Kaufman County, they should be worried about the potential settlement this woman may receive from the county. Because at the end of the day, they are the ones who are really going to be paying.