Larry Gaston lives in a ramshackle house with peeling paint and a yard full of junk and weeds.
Hobbling around on crutches – he broke his foot while fishing at the Texas City dike – he recalled the day a couple of Hitchcock police officers visited him and hauled him to jail.
“Never did tell me what I was arrested for until later on,” he said. “And then they tell me it’s because of a utility, because the water was off.”
Now he’s got a lawyer who’s filed suit against the City of Hitchcock, arguing that Gaston was basically arrested for breaking an ordinance that doesn’t exist. An officer at the jail told Gaston he had been arrested for “no city utilities,” the lawsuit says, but there’s no such ordinance on the books.
“The bottom line is that Mr. Gaston is a 61-year-old man,” said Fread Houston, the Austin-based attorney representing Gaston. “And he basically had the police come on his property to basically chastise him as if he was a child about his water bill.”
Gaston said he stopped paying after a busted water main sent his bill through the roof.
“With that line break, they wanted me to pay for it,” he recalled. “I wasn’t going to pay for it. Then the next month, it went up from $150 to $250 to $350. It got up to $459. And I told ‘em to cut it off. I wasn’t even using the water.”
The trouble outlined in the legal case traces back to an April morning two years ago, when the lawsuit says three Hitchcock police officers went to Gaston’s house. One of the officers talked to Gaston about the junk in his yard and his old water bills.
“Apparently, the discussion became a little bit agitated when one of the senior officers essentially told him, ‘We’re trying to clean up the City of Hitchcock’ and ‘Don’t you know who I am?’” Houston said. “Those sorts of words did not help with the situation.”
The conversation heated up, Gaston recalled, and the oldest officer told one the younger officers to arrest him.
The lawsuit alleges the officers didn’t read Gaston his rights and wouldn’t let him use the bathroom. Gaston says he had to relieve himself in his pants.
The next day, the suit says, a jailer who checked a computer told him he had been arrested for “no city utilities.” Gaston was released on a personal bond.
Hitchcock police didn’t return calls for comment. Spokespeople for municipalities typically don’t talk to reporters about pending litigation.
Gaston’s lawyer, who used to live in Hitchcock and whose mother used to own the house where the arrest happened, said he’s heard other residents complaining about arrests for petty infractions. Gaston filed an internal complaint with the city government two years ago, he said, but nothing ever came out of it.
The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages, but Gaston said what he wants more than anything else has nothing to do with money.
“They need to get rid of them bad cops,” he said.