Coolville mural

A community mural is seen on a Main Street building in Coolville.

A former Coolville police chief faces a lawsuit alleging he violated the constitutional rights of a resident engaged to wed Coolville’s former mayor.

In addition to prompting an ongoing dispute in Coolville over the village’s rightful mayor, the issues at play in the case have contributed to an ongoing effort to dissolve the Village of Coolville.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in January, claims the former police chief, Scott Miller — who resigned last month — used excessive force against, unlawfully seized and falsely detained Coolville resident James Seymour. Seymour is engaged to the village’s former mayor, Rose Tyman.

In June 2020, Tyman took a leave of absence from her position as mayor as a result of the conflict between Miller and Seymour. She has yet to return to her position.

The lawsuit argues Seymour, Tyman, and Seymour’s friends “have been harassed, stalked, and forced to live in fear” of Miller and that Miller used his “position and authority as... Coolville’s Police Department’s Chief of Police to conduct this harassment and terrorism with impunity.”

The Village of Coolville is also a defendant in the case, which argues the village and its police department allowed Miller to make “arrests and other policing decisions without any supervisory oversight” and that this ultimately constituted “deliberate indifference towards individual’s (sic) civil rights.”

Mediation for the case is set to begin imminently, according to Seymour’s attorney Michael Fradin.

Traffic stop and “strangulation”

At the center of the case is a traffic stop that occurred on May 30, 2020.

A video of the incident captured by Coolville Village Council Member Lora Toncray, who happened to be accompanying Miller for a ride-along, shows Miller speaking with Seymour, who is on the phone with Tyman.

Miller tries to take Seymour’s phone away, and Seymour says, “He’s got his hands on me… Rose, he’s got his hands on me.” Miller then grabs Seymour’s phone and throws it to the pavement.

Seymour can be heard saying, “You just assaulted me three times,” and then, repeatedly, “You assaulted me.” At this point, Miller repeatedly instructs Seymour to put his hands behind his back because he is under arrest. Seymour says, “I’m not dealing with you, I want the sheriff’s department.” Seymour can then be heard repeatedly telling Miller, “Quit touching me.”

A second video of the incident, also recorded by Toncray, shows Miller holding Seymour to the ground. For a portion of the video, Miller appears to grab Seymour by or near the neck, which the filing against Miller describes as “strangulation.”

Miller repeatedly instructs Seymour not to move. Seymour says, “I can’t breathe. I have asthma.”

Miller says he will call an ambulance, and he proceeds to do so. Seymour says, “I don’t need an ambulance, I just need off my belly. I can’t f--king breathe.”

The dispute continues, with Miller repeatedly instructing Seymour not to move as Seymour repeatedly says he is trying to breathe. Seymour then says he has defecated on himself, which he repeats as Miller walks him to the police cruiser.

In court documents from the subsequent case against Seymour, the prosecution argues Miller was not choking Seymour during the aftermath of the traffic stop.

However, in a phone conversation between Miller and then-Mayor Rose Tyman that occurred after the incident, which Miller himself apparently recorded, Miller says of Seymour, “I was able to choke him out.”

The legal filing against Miller says Seymour “suffered a bruised larynx, other physical injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder” as a result of the incident.

After Seymour’s arrest, he was charged with three misdemeanors including resisting arrest, obstructing official business and possession of drug paraphernalia, as well as two traffic charges including a turn signal violation and driving without an operator’s license. The possession charge was subsequently dismissed.

While Seymour was found guilty of the traffic charges in a November jury trial, the jury found him not guilty of resisting arrest and obstructing official business.

The filing against Miller describes these latter two charges as stemming from “falsified allegations.”

Meanwhile, Miller’s defense argues in court documents that Seymour’s guilt on traffic charges demonstrates Seymour was not made to stand trial for crimes he did not commit.

Targeting?

The case against Miller argues the May 30 incident was not isolated but instead part of a pattern of targeting endured by Seymour and those close to him.

The filing against Miller cites an August 2019 incident in which Miller allegedly stopped Seymour “without just cause” before withdrawing his firearm and commanding Seymour “to get on his knees.” The filing claims Miller then ordered his police dog to “go after” Seymour and that Miller then unlawfully detained Seymour.

Additionally, the filing references two conversations between Miller and friends of Seymour.

The filing claims Miller told Jesse Harris, just hours before the traffic stop, that he had “had it” with Seymour and that he was going to “take [Seymour] down.”

The filing also cites a recorded conversation between Miller and Seymour’s friend, Kelly Pagett in spring 2020. In the recording, Miller apparently pulls Seymour over and begins asking Pagett about posts on Seymour’s Facebook page.

As the filing says, “In response to Pagett telling Defendant Miller that Plaintiff Seymour was afraid to leave because of fear that Defendant Miller may be ‘out roaming around,’ Defendant Miller responded, ‘every night, here on out.’ Defendant Miller then told Pagett that Plaintiff Seymour was the biggest ‘p---y’ that he had met in his life and that in the next few days he was going to be working to get some things with Seymour ‘closed-out.’”

Seymour’s attorney, Michael Fradin, said this conversation occurred prior to the May 30, 2020 incident.

The filing claims harassment against Seymour continued after the traffic stop, including in an incident on or about the day Miller was served in the civil case, in which Miller pulled Seymour over.

While the filing against Miller describes all these events as part of an ongoing process of harassment, Miller’s defense argues in court documents that each event described is distinct and separate. The defense notes that many months separate the August 2019 incident from the May 2020 incident, while arguing conversations between Miller and Seymour’s friends are “irrelevant.”

Fradin told the Messenger, “I do think there was a progression of it but it’s kind of difficult to precisely say ‘this is the trigger’ or ‘this is the moment when the switch flipped.’”

“It’s been terrible, you can’t even walk up the street without fearing, ‘is he gonna harass us,’ or whatever,” said Tyman. “We wouldn’t even let the children, the two boys, go up the street because what if something was to happen? You kind of live in that fear, and it’s not cool to have to live like that. It’s the law, and you’ve always been taught that they’re who you trust.”

As to why Miller would target Seymour, Tyman and their friends, court documents do not offer a direct explanation.

Jeremy Miller, who was on village council at the time of the incident but resigned only a few months later, said Scott Miller “didn’t like James, because James had a drug past.” Jeremy Miller added his opinion that the beginning of the romantic relationship between Tyman and Seymour was also relevant to Scott Miller’s targeting of the pair.

Tyman said the beginning of Scott Miller’s harassment against her and Seymour coincided with the beginning of their relationship and that Scott Miller and Seymour had previously been friends. However, Tyman did not directly attribute Scott Miller’s harassment to her and Seymour’s romantic relationship and said there has never been a romantic connection between her and Scottt Miller.

Role of village government

At the time of the first incidents between Seymour and Scott Miller, Tyman, as the mayor, oversaw the police department.

“Before that incident [the May 30, 2020 traffic stop], there were times — but I just tried to be like, ‘okay,’ and just be a nice boss I guess,” Tyman said

After the traffic stop and Seymour’s subsequent arrest, Tyman said the village council immediately stripped her of authority over the police department, in part because she visited the scene of the traffic stop.

Tyman also took a one-year leave of absence as mayor after a unanimous council resolution at a June, 2020 special meeting called on her to do so, according to meeting minutes.

This followed the recorded phone conversation between Tyman and Scott Miller, in which Miller can be heard telling Tyman to “be proactive” and “figure something out” in regard to “both James and the mayor’s stuff.”

In the recorded conversation, Miller says, “All this stuff is gonna come to light,” including information about Tyman’s connection to Seymour and her decision to visit the scene of the traffic stop.

Miller adds that if he were in Tyman’s position, he would “kick [Seymour’s] ass out of the house in about a day.”

Jeremy Miller said he regrets supporting the council resolutions to divest Tyman of her authority over the police department and to request her leave of absence, claiming Scott Miller misled he and other council members.

After Tyman’s leave started, Roxanna Chiki (Rupe), began serving as Coolville’s acting mayor, a position she still holds.

The lawsuit targets the Village of Coolville in part because of its failure to terminate Scott Miller in light of the May 30, 2020 incident — a decision for which Tyman said Chiki, who declined to comment for this story, is responsible.

“Roxanna allowed it to go on and keep happening, and she supported [Scott Miller] 110%, and they all let it happen,” Tyman said.

Impact on village issues

The issues involved in the lawsuit against Scott Miller and the Village of Coolville are central to multiple ongoing disputes in the Village of Coolville.

Tyman claims she is the rightful mayor of the village and should be allowed to return to her seat — an issue she pressed at the September and October village council meetings, according to meeting minutes.

Tyman did not attend the council meetings in July and August of this year, the first in which she was slated to return to her position. Tyman told the Messenger she has valid excuses for missing the meetings. However, at the August meeting, the village council voted unanimously not to excuse her absences, according to meeting minutes.

Others, including Jeremy Miller, also argue Tyman is entitled to the position and that she has been wrongfully barred from returning.

Additionally, proponents of dissolving the Village of Coolville — including Tyman and Jeremy Miller — said their campaign is motivated in part by the lack of accountability for the Coolville Police Department. Tyman and Jeremy Miller said this lack of accountability was demonstrated by the incidents with Seymour and their aftermath.

The Coolville Police Department would dissolve along with the village. Both the campaign to dissolve the village and the opposition fighting to maintain the village have been previously covered in The Athens Messenger.

“I just hate that you can’t trust a police officer — it’s totally changed the way that I look at that kind of thing,” Tyman said. “If [Scott Miller] was to pull me over right now, I would call 911.”

Scott Miller resigned as Coolville’s chief of police at the October village council meeting over his own allegations of village government corruption, as the Messenger reported. However, Miller told the Messenger he would consider returning to the Coolville police force after Chiki is no longer acting as mayor.

The lawsuit against Scott Miller and the village is entering into mediation over the next few weeks, according to Fradin.

Fradin said he is optimistic a resolution will be reached soon.

“I hope [the resolution] is something James feels satisfied with: that he feels there’s been justice, that he feels secure, that he feels heard, that he feels comfortable and able to move on with his life as a community member of Coolville,” Fradin said.

Scott Miller declined to comment for this story and directed the Messenger to his attorney, who did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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