May 5, 1995 in City

Man Sues County For Rights Violations Claims Distress From Confusion Over Paternity, Child Support

William Miller Staff writer

Spokane County prosecutors are facing a second civil rights lawsuit stemming from their pursuit of a suspected deadbeat dad in 1993.

That man, Wilbur Sargeant Sr., was a 70-year-old cancer patient with proof of having had a vasectomy three decades earlier.

As it turned out, the real father of a 7-year-old Spokane boy is Sargeant’s 39-year-old son.

Prosecutors belatedly acknowledged the mistake and went after Wilbur Sargeant Jr., demanding child-support payments.

Now the younger man is striking back, demanding money from the county.

This week, Sargeant filed a suit in U.S. District Court seeking $28 million in damages for civil rights violations, abuse of the court process and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Sargeant, a Portland car salesman acting as his own lawyer, claims he suffered when prosecutors targeted his father instead of him.

The five-page complaint, however, is short on specifics.

Spokane County Prosecutor Jim Sweetser and deputies Art Hayashi, Carolyn Louthian and Elizabeth Schoedel are named defendants.

Attempts to reach the Sargeants on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Last fall, a federal judge tossed out Wilbur Sargeant Sr.’s civil rights suit, ruling in part the prosecutor’s office has immunity from such claims because it functions as an arm of the state.

The case is on appeal before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Spokane attorney John Nelson, who represented the county, said he isn’t worried about the latest legal threat.

He called the son’s claims “much less persuasive” than the father’s.

“I wouldn’t be too worried about a jury verdict,” Nelson said. “The bottom line is, this guy didn’t pay his child support.”

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