By Stephanie Basalyga
Silverton Appeal Tribune
Wednesday, January 14, 1998
A father's battle to regains custody of his daughter took a legal turn last week, when Wilbur Gaston filed a $500 million civil suit in Marion County Circuit Court.
The list of defendants in his suit include seven current and past employees of the Silverton Police Department, the State of Oregon and its Office of Services for Children and Families (SCF), two members of the Marion County District Attorney's office, five judges and 32 other individuals.
The suit, filed Jan. 5, charges former Police Chief Randy Lundsford, former Officer Jack Mattingly, Lt. Jerry Stearns, Officers Ed Jensen, Sylvia Stearns, Gary Robertson and current interim Chief Al Allen with several offenses including kidnapping, tampering with physical evidence, menacing and falsifying business records. Gaston said he hopes the civil case will spur a grand jury investigation into how SCF handles cases.
City Manager David Meriwether said the matter has been referred to the city's attorney and insurance company. Although Mattingly and Lundsford are no longer with the department, and Jensen is a reserve officer, Meriwether said they are covered under the city legal umbrella since they were acting for the city when the alleged incidents occurred.
Gaston's suit has been referred to Judge Paul Lipscomb's court. All the defendants in the suit have 30 days to respond by filing motions or raising questions. Lipscomb will decide whether or not the case goes to trial based on the merit of the questions and the content of the suit.
Gaston said he began having problems with the Silverton police in 1995 when SCF received a call alleging Gaston was sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter. According to police reports Silverton Officers, and SCF investigated the initial complaint, but found no evidence to support the claim. Gaston and his daughter were living in an apartment in Silverton at that time.
"We were just being father and daughter," said Gaston, seventy-one, who was raising his daughter as a single parent. The little girl was removed from her mother's care by SCF in an earlier action.
In March, 1996, police officers once again appeared at Gaston's door at the request of SCF. Another allegation of sexual abuse had been reported.
"They came and knocked on my door, and when I got there they already had my daughter in the police car," Gaston said. "They told me they were taking her to (SCF)."
Gaston claims officers used improper procedures when they removed his daughter from the area outside their apartment. In addition, he said, officers had threatened him. Gaston is still locked in the battle with SCF, because, although he has not been charged with abuse, his daughter is still under the care of SCF. The little girl, now 7, has been in more than ten foster homes in the past two years, Gaston said.
After firing two state-appointed attorneys when he felt they failed to adequately represent him, Gaston is now representing himself.
At one point last fall, Gaston picketed Monitor School, where one of his daughter's former foster parents works, alleging videos made of his daughter were pornographic. The video, made at the request of the SCF caseworker, and now in the hands of district court, was intended to help SCF determine the extent of abuse the child may have experienced.
Gaston's struggle also led him to the Internet, where he and fiance Pamela Meziere pour over law libraries learning their rights and the finer points of Oregon statutes.
Because juvenile files are confidential, Gaston said he found himself locked out of his own daughter's case. "They wouldn't tell me anything, so I filed under the Freedom of Information Act," he said.
Now Gaston has boxes full of information regarding the case stacked in almost every room of the Mt. Angel home he shares with Meziere. He plans to use it when he represents himself in the courtroom. "I want my kid," he said.