DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A North Texas attorney has issued a formal apology after accusing a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper of sexually assaulting his female client.
Attorney Lee Merritt represents 37-year-old Sherita Dixon-Cole, who claimed she was sexually assaulted during a traffic stop in Ellis County. In a statement Merritt had leveled the accusations against the DPS trooper (name withheld) saying that he had offered to let Dixon-Cole go in exchange for sexual favors and after being shunned “forcefully groped, fondled and vaginally penetrated during a prolonged arrest that included assaults outside and inside of the police vehicle.”
From the onset DPS officials denied the allegations and very late Tuesday night issued a statement, and nearly two hours of body cam footage, detailing the events of the May 20 traffic stop and subsequent DWI arrest of Dixon-Cole. The video, which was only blurred or muted to protect information that is confidential by state statute, shows that the trooper did not make inappropriate comments and did not sexually assault Dixon-Cole.
Ellis County Officials also said that a trooper in another county not even connected to the case — who has the same name — is getting police protection for himself and his family. They are the latest victims of a social media world fueled by rage and minus the facts.
What should have been a routine DWI arrest instead fed into the nationwide controversy on police abuse.
New York-based activist and radio contributor Shaun King broadcast a story-line built to enrage to his listeners but that story-line was false. “If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen a horrible story on my timeline over these past few days,” said King. “[The officer] proceeded to sexually assault [Dixon-Cole] there in his car touching her under her skirt,” he continued. “When her fiance arrived, the officer asked Sherita if he had a gun and threatened to kill her fiance if she said anything to her fiance about what had just happened.”
Except that it didn’t happen.
Throughout the nearly two-hours-long body camera footage, the trooper is seen behaving professionally and courteously.
“It was maddening,” said Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson. “This is tragic because society is rightfully demanding that police officers conduct themselves beyond reproach. The world now knows the trooper in this case conducted himself beyond reproach,” Wilson continued. “And yet he still was subject to this horrible abuse across the country.”
Wilson was quick to express his appreciation to local media outlets for what he called “restraint and diligence in trying to vet this story before you participated in perpetuating these very harmful allegations against this poor trooper… it’s a shame we didn’t see any restraint in social media along those lines.”
Throughout the day, the online conversation quickly turned to a call for Dixon-Cole to face additional charges.
The Ellis County DA’s office says they are investigating.
In the DPS statement Texas DPS spokesman Lonny Haschel said, “The Department is appalled that anyone would make such a despicable, slanderous and false accusation against a peace officer who willingly risks his life every day to protect and serve the public.”
Merritt apologized Wednesday for his role in elevating the false claim, writing, “It is deeply troubling when innocent parties are falsely accused and I am truly sorry for any trouble these claims may have caused… I take full responsibility for amplifying these claims to the point of national concern.”
Merritt posted the statement on his social media accounts saying that the “body camera footage released directly conflicts with the accounts reported to my office.”
The lawyer also apologized for the actions he took before the accusations could be substantiated. “It is deeply troubling when innocent parties are falsely accused and I am truly sorry for any trouble these claims may have caused Officer Hubbard and his family,” he said. “I take full responsibility for amplifying these claims to the point of national concern.”
Merritt also admitted that the video showed Officer Hubbard acted professionally during the the traffic stop and arrest and “should be cleared of any wrongdoing.”