Cop’s action ignites possible lawsuit
By 09/25/2003 00:00:00
Parent outraged over loss of 12-year-old's custody
The Ellis County Press
FERRIS - Skip Donahue plans to file a lawsuit against the Ferris Police Department for a situation involving him and a child-custody settlement with his ex-wife.
Donahue said his ex-wife, who lives in Houston and has a history of mental and psychological problems, drove up Sunday, Sept. 21 to hand him court documents showing a transfer in custody of their 12-year-old daughter.
However, Donahue maintained the Ferris Police Department, which dispatched officers to accompany his wife, erred in its decision to order him to pack the girl's belongings 'in 10 minutes' and to 'not call your lawyer.'
Though he voluntarily released the girl, Donahue said he felt intimidated by FPD Officer David Vaughn, who he said grasped his gun and handcuffs, while at his front door.
The lawsuit, Donahue and his Waxahachie-based attorney plan to argue, is based on the fact the court documents did not specify an order for a peace officer to serve them.
Donahue said Vaughn violated his civil liberties.
According to officials with the Ellis County Sheriff's Office and former constables, a judge must order deputies or constables to serve court orders, not police officers, unless specifically mentioned.
If the judge's edict states a 'peace officer' as well as constables and deputies, then legally a police officer would be able to serve the papers.
'We serve papers all the time, but it's customary procedure for a constable or sheriff deputy to do it,' said one ECSO official.
'If it's not specifically ordered, then it has to be done through the sheriff's department. If I were the lady, I would have stayed until Monday morning to go get a judge's order from the district clerk's office. Without a judge's order specifically stating [what needs to be done], it's a whole new ballgame.'
No such order exists on the papers Donahue's wife handed him, documents show.
Two officers, Vaughn and Joe Villa, were present when Donahue's wife and her girlfriend, showed up, he said.
Villa, Donahue said, acted 'professional as hell' and even questioned what his partner was saying.
'He [Vaughn] said you have 10 minutes to get her packed and [ready to go], and said not to call my lawyer,' Donahue said. 'We're working to get a change of venue to Ellis County so this case [can be worked out].'
The Donahues were divorced several years ago and the wife, Kimberly Donahue, lost custody of the girl, a student at Ferris Intermediate School, because of a history of mental problems and attempts to commit suicide.
Skip Donahue cites court documents showing Kimberly Donahue's father was convicted of the murder of his wife and placed on lifetime probation; documents also show Donahue's ex-wife was allowed to see the girl on supervised visitation privileges.
In 1998, according to court papers, Donahue's wife wanted broader visitation and custody rights, but a judge ordered her to go under a psychological exam and if completed, the guidelines imposed would be met.
'I tried telling [Vaughn] no, wait, you don't have the whole story, there's supposed to be a court addendum stating she has [gone through the exam] before having custody,' Donahue said.
'That wasn't in the [papers she handed me]. But he said no, get her things ready in 10 minutes and ‘don't make this difficult.''
Donahue then said Vaughn had told him to 'stop hiding her, you know the law.'
Vaughn and Villa could not be reached for comment.
The Ferris acting-police chief, Sergeant Mike Zaidle, said he had not yet spoken to the officers about the incident at press deadline.