Roger Magee says the pastor of a Franklinton Pentecostal church where he once worshipped had warned him to stay out of Washington Parish, but last year, news of an ailing relative pulled the 49-year-old man back to his hometown — putting him on the patio of his aunt’s home on an afternoon in late March, surrounded by kin and holding on his lap a grandson whom he had never met before.
The happy reunion didn’t last long.
The Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office arrived, surprising the family as deputies came around the side of Ruby Walley’s home, weapons drawn, to arrest the Arkansas resident for failure to pay child support.
His subsequent lawsuit, which The New Orleans Advocate first wrote about in September, is one of the loose ends from the administration of former 22nd Judicial District Attorney Walter Reed, who is a defendant in the suit along with his close friend Jerry Wayne Cox — pastor of Magee’s former church, Faith Tabernacle. Reed was the DA for both St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
Magee and two of his aunts described what happened after the deputies arrived as chaotic and frightening. Magee’s young daughter — one of several children standing outside the house — ran inside, terrified. Magee said he put down his toddler grandson and walked through an open door into his aunt’s kitchen to retrieve an Arkansas legal document that he believed would prevent his arrest.
But deputies followed him inside and fired a stun gun. Walley said her nephew fell face-first on the hard kitchen tile, unable to break his fall.
“It sounded like a gun,” his aunt Sheree Magee said.
Walley believed that her nephew had been shot right in front of her and began weeping. “Y’all shot him,” she recalled crying out to deputies. “You shot him in the back.”
When the prone Magee did not comply with orders to put his hands behind his back — he was lying on top of them — they stunned him again, Walley said. Deputies got him up, and he began retching.
Magee’s arrest was only the beginning of a lengthy ordeal. He claims that he suffered a brain injury and other trauma from his arrest but was denied immediate care. He went several days without the insulin he needed to treat his diabetes. And he spent 120 days in jail on charges of resisting arrest and nonpayment of child support to the tune of $39,000.
Walley said family members were never able to get him released on bail, although she and her sister both tried to post property bonds.
They were told there was a “DA hold” on their nephew that would prevent his release.
That alleged delay is one of the issues raised in the lawsuit Magee filed in federal court last summer that named as defendants Washington Parish Sheriff Randy “Country” Seal as well as Reed and Cox.
The suit alleged that Magee was targeted for reprisal by powerful men — Cox and Reed — because he had gone to the FBI with information about them.
“There is a child support issue, but what we’re alleging is that the true reason for the show of force out there, the tasing of Roger Magee … had nothing to do with child support. It had everything to do with this back story,” said Phil Kaplan, Magee’s attorney.
A letter from the lawyer Magee hired initially, Marion Farmer, refers to the DA hold, saying it would prevent Magee from getting out of jail even if he was allowed to post bond.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘DA hold,’ ” Kaplan said. “But Roger was told, ‘You’re staying in here. You’re not getting out because there’s a DA hold placed on you.’ ”
Magee wasn’t always on the wrong side of Cox, a well-known figure in Franklinton whom Reed described as “one of my best friends in life” in a letter to Pentecostal pastors promoting his personal injury work as a lawyer.
Cox lives in a mansion on more than 300 acres behind a metal sign emblazoned with his name in gold letters. The deed values it at more than $2 million, but he sold it to the church and so it is tax-exempt. Most of the land surrounding his property, which is dotted by statues of animals, has a land-use tax exemption on it for timber production, according to the Washington Parish assessor. That means it is taxed at $30 an acre, well below value.
While Cox lives in luxurious surroundings, many of his members live in trailers on the church grounds, Magee said, and their children attend an unaccredited school, also on the campus.
Magee’s aunts say their nephew was a somewhat wild teenager who joined Cox’s church and changed for a time, becoming enthralled by the pastor.
But he later grew disenchanted with a figure he now describes as “very controlling.” He says Cox kept a book that his wife, Brenda Gail Cox, used to track what each member gave — with constant demands for more.
“Jerry Cox lives in a colony. He keeps all his people colonized. The last thing he wants is for one to leave … that knows anything concerning Jerry Cox,” Magee said.
But Magee did leave, and he says that he met with the FBI and told them about a property damage claim that Cox had made and also about personal-injury referrals made by Cox to Reed.
In 2012, Cox was in Arkansas and sought a meeting with Magee, according to the lawsuit. “You didn’t scare us much with the FBI,” Cox allegedly told him. “Well, you scared us a little.”
The suit claims that Cox told him not to come to Louisiana or Reed “will handle you.”
Cox hung up twice on reporters last week, although last fall he told The New Orleans Advocate that Magee was an ex-parishioner who was angry because Cox told him to stop coming to church.
He denied ever threatening Magee, but he did say he had heard that Magee tried to go to the FBI with information about him and Reed. He said he referred a case to the McCranie Sistrunk law firm, where Reed is “of counsel,” for a possible civil suit at the request of a fellow preacher and that a friend of Magee’s was angry that he didn’t receive any of the settlement money.
Reed recused his office from prosecuting a truck driver in an accident that killed two women, saying he did so because of his relationship with the firm. But in a Pentecostal magazine article, he bragged about earning a $2.4 million settlement for families of those victims.
An attorney representing Cox filed an answer to Magee’s suit last month in which he denied having anything to do with Magee’s arrest. “Defendant Jerry Wayne Cox … is not a ‘state actor’ and did not participate in joint activity with state actors. Defendant Cox is a private citizen,” the pleading said.
Seal said he cannot comment on the matter because he is being sued, but he pointed out that his office recently received an award for rounding up deadbeat dads. “At the end of the day when we go to court, the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office and Randy Seal, the sheriff, will be exonerated of all these allegations made by Mr. Magee,” he said.
Reed’s attorney, Richard T. Simmons Jr., said he will file a pleading this week on behalf of Reed “denying these frivolous allegations, which will be decided by the courts, not the media’s championing of Mr. Magee’s self-serving cause.”
Simmons said Magee’s wife had called the Sheriff’s Office seeking his arrest. When Magee was released, he promised to pay child support beyond an initial $5,000 payment but then fled to Arkansas and has not made further payments, Simmons said in a written statement.
Simmons said Reed was unaware of any interview that Magee had with the FBI, making Magee’s claims moot.
Reed, who was DA for 30 years, chose not to seek re-election last year under the cloud of negative media coverage and a federal grand jury investigation.
“Magee’s lawsuit is a typical complaint, but in this instance, he has attempted to take advantage of a wave of adverse publicity against Walter Reed,” Simmons said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.