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After House Burns Down, Gay Oklahoma Man Files Federal Lawsuit

Tensions were high between the residents of Hitchcock, Oklahoma, and Randy Gamel when his six-bedroom dream home burned down in a suspicious fire last May.
Randy Gamel-Medler and his family.
Randy Gamel-Medler and his family.Photo courtesy of Randy Gamel-Medler

Tensions were high between the residents of Hitchcock, Okla., and Randy Gamel-Medler when his six-bedroom dream home burned down earlier this year in a suspicious fire.

Hitchcock is a town like many others in the largely agrarian state — a rural community of a little over 100 people that a handful of families have called home for generations. Gamel-Medler, 59, moved there from Fort Worth, Texas, in 2014 to begin renovations on his retirement home, a fixer-upper that used to be the judge's house, and to give his young son the backyard he always wanted.

Gamel-Medler went to work upgrading the house and started getting involved in local politics. It wasn't long before he became the town clerk. It was then that he and the locals began to feud over how the town should be run.

Along with the fire that burned down his home (and is currently under criminal investigation), Gamel-Medler described a number of interactions with locals that provide the basis for his civil rights lawsuit, filed on August 3, against nine residents of Blaine County, Okla., including Sheriff Tony Almaguer, Undersheriff David Robertson, Hitchcock Mayor Rick Edsall and six others.

"What Are You Going to Do When Your House Burns Down?"

According to Gamel-Medler, he had a disturbing interaction with one of the town's trustees at a September 2016 board meeting, which occurred just one month after he brought his 7-year-old son, who is African-American, to live with him and his husband in Hitchcock.

"Meradith Norris, one of the trustees, had seen him in the yard and asked if he was our son," Gamel-Medler told NBC News. "She said to me, 'What are you going to do when your house burns down and we don't send out the firetrucks?'"

According to the lawsuit, Gamel-Medler filed a police report afterwards with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office, but no criminal action was taken.

We're Not "Racist and Homophobic"

Gamel-Medler also recalled an incident in early May, a few weeks before the fire, where Jonita Pauls Jacks, who is named in the lawsuit, allegedly attempted to enter his car while he was performing his duties on the road as town clerk. When he locked the door, he said Jacks shook his truck and said, "You f-----g queer, I’m going to grab your little boy, rip his n----r head off and sh-t down his throat."

Gamel-Medler said he immediately brought the incident to Sheriff Almaguer, who allegedly said Jacks was practicing free speech. "No report, nobody does anything," Gamel-Medler said.

Undersheriff Robertson vehemently denied any racism or homophobia from the townsfolk, though he confirmed the feuds.

"I got to know him very well from all the complaints and allegations that he made, and I cannot find one person who made any racist statements against his child or against him for being a homosexual," Robertson told the Associated Press. "We don't take too kindly to being called racist and homophobic, because we're not."

NBC News was told by the Blaine County Sheriff's Office that Sheriff Almaguer would not be available to comment on the case until next week, and the other defendants could not be reached for comment.

"The Town Clerk Is a F-----g Queer"

Gamel-Medler said many of the townspeople didn't hide their homophobic views and claimed the deputy sheriff and undersheriff were aware of it. A few days before his house burned down, he said two of the people named in the suit, Kenny and Patsy Meier, erected a sign in front of the post office, where he and his son often walked, that read "The town clerk is a f-----g queer."

"Patsy admitted to the deputy that her and her husband had put up the sign in front of the post office," Gamel-Medler claimed. "The deputy said, 'Ms. Meier, you just admitted to a hate crime.' Then the undersheriff shows up, and there's no crime. They just let it go."

It was then, Gamel-Medler said, that a sheriff's deputy not named in the lawsuit advised him to get out of town, allegedly saying, "These people are serious. They're going to kill you, they're going to kill your son, and they're going to burn your house down."

"Everything That We Had Is Gone"

On May 28, the night his house burned down, Gamel-Medler said he heard a noise like glass breaking in his garage. He called the sheriff to report a burglary, then saw a fire in his garage and called the fire department. Despite being a block away from the fire station, Gamel-Medler alleged the department did nothing for an extended period of time.

"No sirens, no calls to other towns. They didn't even save the grass," he said. "All of my family records dating back to the Civil War, photographs, the first seven years of my son's life, his karate trophy, his bike, his baptism book, all gone."

The lawsuit alleges that some Hitchcock residents, including defendants Patsy and Kenny Meier, watched the fire from their lawn chairs nearby.

Undersheriff Robertson told the Associated Press that Gamel-Medler's story about the fire is inconsistent with evidence. There are currently separate investigations into the fire being conducted by the Blaine County Sheriff's Department, an insurance company and the state fire marshal's office, according to Robertson, but no charges have yet been filed in connection with the blaze.

Gamel-Medler said any suggestion he is involved in the fire is outrageous. "We lost everything from 27 years," he said. "Everything that we had is gone."

"Intersection of Hate"

Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, called the situation in Hitchcock "horrific" and said it shows the "intersection of hate aimed at both the African-American and LGBTQ communities."

"I've never seen anything like this. It's like something out of the '50s or '60s," Stevenson told NBC News

Gamel-Medler has since moved to El Paso, Texas. He said ideally he would go back to Hitchcock, but he has been warned not to, and he said he would be concerned for his family's safety.

"The part that bothers me the most is, I should be able to go anywhere in Oklahoma and live anywhere I want and live peacefully with my son," he said. "But I can’t. Not in Hitchcock."

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