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OK gay man claims small-town fire department stood by as his house burned

An Oklahoma gay man claims in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last week that officials in his small town conspired to run him and his family out of town.

Nine defendants are named in the lawsuit, including Rick Edsall, mayor of Hitchcock, Tony Almaguer, sheriff of Blaine County, and David Robertson, undersheriff of Blaine County.

Randy Gamel-Medler, his husband and their 7-year-old adopted African-American son moved to Hitchcock (population 121, according to the 2010 census) in August of last year. Roughly a month later, Gamel-Medler, the town clerk, was threatened by a town trustee at a town council meeting after he learned that Gamel-Medler, a white man, had a son who is African-American, according to the complaint. "What's going to happen when your house burns down and we don't send out the fire trucks?" Meradith Norris, a defendant in the lawsuit, asked. Town officials ignored the police report Gamel-Medler filed.

In May, Gamel-Medler was assaulted by defendant Jonita Pauls Jacks, who called him a "fucking queer" and threatened his son, saying that she was going to grab his son and "rip his nigger head off and shit down his throat." The town deputy sheriff refused to allow Gamel-Medler to file a police report and chalked up the incident to free speech.

Other incidents, including the posting of a sign outside the post office stating that "the town clerk is a fucking queer," occurred over the next several weeks.

On May 28, the complaint describes an incident in which Gamel-Medler called the sheriff's office to report a burglary after he heard glass breaking in his garage. He then called the fire department to report a fire in his garage. But the fire department, which is located one block from Gamel-Medler's house, failed to arrive in time to save his home. As his house burned, four of the defendants, including Mayor Edsall, looked on, according to the complaint.

Gamel-Medler quit his job and moved his family out of Hitchcock.

In an interview with News9.com, Edsall denied the charges, saying that the fire department reached Gamel-Medler's house in six minutes and stating that he pitched in to put out the fire.

In a statement released over the weekend by Freedom Oklahoma, a group that supports LGBT rights, Gamel-Medler said that he and his family "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?"

In his lawsuit, Gamel-Medler is asking for compensation plus punitive damages.
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