Woman sues Moulton, saying she was wrongfully evicted and banished
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A Victoria County woman has sued the City of Moulton over claims that she and her family were illegally evicted from their home and banished from the city.
The woman filed paperwork for the lawsuit in federal court on May 5. However, her application to proceed without prepayment of court fees and costs was granted by U.S. District Judge John Rainey on June 13, making the lawsuit official.
The Advocate is not naming the woman or her husband to protect her daughter's identity.
Other defendants named in the lawsuit were Moulton Police Chief Mark Zimmerman; Moulton police officer Ed Kusak; Lavaca County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Fred Nieto; and Beatrice Patek, landlord of the property from which she was evicted.
The woman claims Zimmerman, Kusak, Nieto and Patek violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights when they conspired to get her and her three children out of the city at Patek's request because of embarrassment that stemmed from the woman's husband being investigated for sexual assault claims made by his stepdaughter.
"It wasn't about that. It was about no payment," said Patek, 70, who denied the plaintiff's claims. "She didn't hold her word on anything."
Emily Rogers, the Austin-based attorney for the City of Moulton, Zimmerman and Patek, declined to comment on the case. Nieto also declined to comment on the case.
The woman made preparations for her, her husband and three children to move to Moulton in early April 2010 when she entered into an oral lease with Patek to rent a home at 504 N. Arnim St., according to the lawsuit.
According to Lavaca County property tax records, the home is owned by a Benjamin Machalec, of Missouri City, and others, whose names were not listed.
Patek, who is Machalec's sister, denied being a landlord for the property; instead saying she was the only relative living near the property when the plaintiff inquired about renting it.
At the time of the oral agreement, the plaintiff said she paid $400 for April's rent.
She and her family, who had been living in Hallettsville, moved to Moulton that same month.
However, the joy of moving into their new home was short-lived.
In the early hours of April 17, one day after the family had moved into the home, the plaintiff's 14-year-old daughter told her mother that her stepfather had assaulted her in their family's old house in Hallettsville the night before they moved to Moulton, according to the lawsuit.
After learning of the assault, the plaintiff reported it to police, prompting Zimmerman and Kusak to come to the house.
The lawsuit contends Patek also came to the home that morning and informed her that she was being evicted for embarrassment caused by the sexual assault allegation.
The stepfather was later charged with sexual assault of a child.
The day after Patek's visit, the plaintiff told Patek that she wanted to pay May's rent and any deposit that was required, but Patek refused to accept the payment, according to the lawsuit.
On April 21, 2010, the plaintiff claimed she was walking home from downtown Moulton when Kusak, who was on duty, stopped and detained her without warrant or any reason to believe that she had violated any state law or city ordinance.
Kusak told the plaintiff that he had orders to take her to Nieto's office at his car dealership and that he would drive her there, according to the lawsuit.
Upon arrival at Nieto's dealership, Nieto ordered the plaintiff to leave the rental home and leave Moulton.
During the meeting, Nieto presented the plaintiff with a typewritten document to sign, stipulating that she would leave her home by May 1, 2010, and would leave without owing an electricity or water bill on the home, according to the lawsuit.
Believing she had no other option, the woman signed the document upon Nieto's orders.
According to the lawsuit, both Patek and Zimmerman frequently harassed the plaintiff until the day she moved, demanding she and her children vacate the premises.
On one such occasion, the woman said Zimmerman stopped her on the highway and told her he had arranged housing for her at a woman's shelter in Victoria.
On April 30, 2010, which was supposed to be the plaintiff's moving day, the woman told Zimmerman, who had came by the home to ensure she was leaving, that she could not leave because she had no driver's license and no means of transportation since her car battery was dead, according to the lawsuit.
The chief helped find a mechanic to get the car started.
According to Lavaca County court records, on May 10, 2011, six days before his jury trial was scheduled to begin, the step-father, 49, pleaded guilty to felony continuous sexual abuse of a child.
He was sentenced to 20 years in state prison.
The Lavaca County Sheriff's Office led the sexual assault investigation against him.
The plaintiff has since separated from her husband.
"This lady was going through a sensitive situation and instead of the town coming together to help and support her like many small towns do, they did the exact opposite," said Jack Salmon, the plaintiff's Edinburg-based attorney. "The police and justice of the peace didn't serve and help her like they were supposed to. They just conspired to run her out of town and threaten her."
The lawsuit contends the defendants violated the woman's Fourteenth Amendment rights, which prohibits state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness.
The plaintiff, who said she suffered an impaired reputation and mental anguish from the ordeal, is requesting a civil penalty of one month's rent plus $1,000 from Patek, court costs and attorney fees as well as actual damages from the City of Moulton and both actual and punitive damages from defendants Kusak, Zimmerman, Nieto and Patek.
She also seeks an injunction against all defendants to prevent them from implementing any eviction policy that diverges from that specified under Texas law.