Federal judge denies protection in lawsuit involving Tenaha traffic stops

Lynda Russell
Lynda Russell

MARSHALL, TX (KTRE) - A federal judge has denied a motion for protection in a lawsuit against several City of Tenaha and Shelby County officials accused of illegal forfeitures during traffic stops.

In a ruling signed on Oct. 5, Judge T. John Ward addresses concerns from the defense that at least two of the named defendants are targets of a federal criminal investigation and allowing release of depositions would "have a chilling effect on the discovery process in this case and would allow the attorneys to play media games, unjustly influence the jury pool, and stifle the information obtained during depositions."

Shelby County District Attorney Lynda K. Russell and some Tenaha city officials are accused of illegally seizing money or property during traffic stops. The lawsuit alleges Tenaha Police stopped the plaintiffs because of their race, violating their constitutional rights.

The defense also cited the plaintiffs' attorney, Tim Garrigan, speaking to KTRE's Donna McCollum about Shelby County District Attorney Lynda K. Russell invoking the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times during deposition.

The judge stated in his order that the defendants could not offer facts to suggest media attention to the case could become harassing, and that even if it could, that the court would be less willing to protect public officials. He also states the public has a strong interest in police misconduct, official corruption and violations of civil rights. As for the possible investigation by the Department of Justice, Ward states the mere fact that some defendants may be a part of a criminal investigation is not reason enough for a protective order.

As for the defense's argument that the release of deposition excerpts will mislead the public, Ward states the Court is "not convinced that a substantial risk exists that the public will be mislead by the release of deposition excerpts by the press or that this potential risk outweighs the strong public interest in this case."

As for the defense's argument that the release would taint a jury pool, the judge states media coverage of the case has not been extensive enough to do so.

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