Fired firefighter sues city for releasing personal information

By Kelly Holleran | May 9, 2011

A Beaumont man claims he should have been hailed as a hero for stopping an intoxicated driver, but instead was fired from his position as a firefighter with the city.

James Mathews Jr. filed a lawsuit April 29 in Jefferson County District Court against the city of Beaumont, Mayor Becky Ames, City Attorney Tyrone Cooper and Fire Chief Anne Huff.

According to the complaint, Mathews was fired from his job as a city firefighter after city officials alleged he attacked an intoxicated driver with a baseball bat.

But Mathews maintains his innocence, saying he never used a weapon of any sort against the driver.

Mathews encountered the driver, Jeremiah Freeman, as Freeman was "careening wildly" down 11th Street in Beaumont. Freeman eventually struck Mathews's vehicle as Mathews sat at a stoplight, the suit states.

After striking Mathews' vehicle, Freeman fled the scene, speeding down 11th toward St. Anne's Catholic School, Premier Charter School and a public park, the complaint says.

"James Mathews, being a Texas state certified professional firefighter and first responder, leapt into action and without regard to his own safety, pursued and eventually stopped this obviously intoxicated driver using his own private vehicle in a valiant attempt to stop what he reasonably believed to be a threat to the public," the suit states.

Freeman admitted he had taken three pain pills before driving that day, the complaint says.

Mathews claims his problems began following the collision when city officials got their hands on confidential information -- Mathews' criminal file -- and began slandering him in public and private settings.

Ames, Cooper and Huff began saying Mathews attacked Freeman with a baseball bat at the time of the incident, according to the complaint.

"This is a malicious lie intended to foster and augment their illegal activity in violation of state law and operating under color of state law in obtaining, retaining, distributing and using Plaintiff's expunged and privileged records," the suit states.

Mathews claims he was charged of a crime, but his charges were later dropped and none of the information in his police file should have been made public. In addition, he should never have been terminated from his job, the complaint says.

Although Mathews eventually secured another job with the city of Beaumont, he claims he filed the current suit because of the confidential information Beaumont officials made public.

"James Mathews Jr. should have been lauded by the City of Beaumont as a hero and instead, he was discharged and in a desperate attempt to justify such improper discharge, the city by and through Mayor Ames, Attorney Cooper and Fire Chief Huff and distributed secret police investigative files which are privileged both under the Texas Open Records Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure and then have used those illegally obtained documents to attempt to deprive James Mathews Jr. of his job," the suit states.

In his complaint, Mathews seeks compensatory, actual and exemplary damages, plus attorney's fees, pre- and post-judgment interest at the legal rate, costs and other relief the court deems just. He also seeks a permanent injunction, preventing the city from obtaining privileged police files, and a court order that the city of Beaumont change its policy.

Alto V. Watson III of the Law Offices of Gilbert T. Adams in Beaumont will be representing him.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. E189-911

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