LOLsuit: The Poke

[Note: This isn’t really a lawsuit, but criminal charges are involved so it qualifies.]

Poor Dale Fout. The 220 pound, 54-year old Fort Worth, Texas area resident was just trying to catch a flick at the Cinemark Tinseltown when … I’ll let him tell it [Fort Worth Star-Ledger]:

“I got a text, and I responded to it because it was something important. It was something that was on a deadline situation, OK. I held it against my chest purposely where I could barely see it. … I could text but hide the majority of the light coming from the phone.

Enter Brenda Godwin, a 54 year-old, 135-pound skin care specialist who was sitting behind him. She said:

“He had his phone out. The light was shining at me. I’m thinking, ‘He’s going to turn it off.'” But he didn’t. ‘OK, this is ridiculous.’

She did the unthinkable:

So I reached over and tapped him on the shoulder. It was very bright. I was only trying to get his attention. He whipped around and said, ‘Don’t ever touch me.’ I was a little taken aback. ‘I wouldn’t have touched you if you didn’t have your phone out.’

“He jumps up and whirls around towards me and says, ‘I am charging you with assault,’ and he flew out of the theater.”

A proportional response, indeed. But let’s see what Fout has to say about it.

“She said something. I couldn’t make it out. That’s why I turned. She was probably saying something like, ‘Get off your phone.’ I turned, and she pushed. She just happened to push my neck at the time my neck was in an awkward position. Kinda like having a little fender bender, and you get a little whiplash in your neck, you know.”

That’s one powerful poke you’ve got there, Arthur Fonzerelli.

Fout denies he made a big deal about it, but the police and EMS were called, a complaint was filed and Fout insisted to the police that Godwin be prosecuted. The police charged her with assault.

“Fout advised he had been assaulted and his neck was in pain,” officer Emily Hays wrote. Fout was treated for neck pain by Grapevine paramedics. “Fout said a female who was sitting behind him in Theater 8 grabbed him by the shoulder because he was texting during the movie,” Hays wrote. “Fout said he got up, walked out of the theater and asked management to call police.”

I’m all for two sides of a story, but Fout’s sounds pretty ridiculous. A police official said the ticket was given because they didn’t see it and it’s the court’s job to figure out what happened.1

Is there a case?

Jeff Bellin, SMU assistant professor of law, says that a tap is not an assault but that a shove may be.

“It would be a jury question, but I think most people would agree that tapping someone on the shoulder, even if you don’t know them, is normal. We expect that kind of interaction in our everyday lives.”

Most rational people anyway.2 Just not Dale Fout. Given time to take a breath and think about it, he’s not backing down at all. Jeff Prince from Fort Worth Weekly gave him a second chance to tell his story. And of course, he blamed the first reporter for letting him tell his story using his own words.3 Then, he went full-on internet tough guy.

The real wimps, Fout said, are the people who believe everything they read and make anonymous statements online without knowing the real story. If anybody wants to come say some of that stuff to his face and threaten him, they’re welcome, “but when you’re sipping through a straw for a month because you’re jaw is broke, don’t blame me,” he said. “I take care of business.”

He doubts anybody will confront him face to face.

“If I was in front of them they’d probably pee and crap their drawers,” he said. “It goes to show you what a bunch of idiots there are in the world. They’re idiots because they don’t know the whole story. I’ll tell every one of them to their face they’re an idiot. The woman put her hand on me and pushed me.”

So let me get this straight: the guy whose neck was seriously injured by a woman half his size poking/pushing him from the seated position is going to leave us sipping through our collective straws for a month.

Anyway, Fout said he didn’t ask for the police; the theater did that on its own (I guess, who else would have done it). All he wanted was an apology.

Fout complained to a manager in the lobby. While doing so, a woman approached him to say she was a physical therapist. She looked at his neck and noticed a knot.

Someone page a neurosurgeon.

“Before I knew it here comes Emergency Medical Services and police,” Fout said. “The theater management said by law they had to do that.”

Lieber’s story quotes police as saying that Fout desired to prosecute Godwin, which led to the ticket and a $260 fine. Godwin, of Richmond, Virginia, told Lieber that she paid the fine because it would be too expensive to travel back to Texas to fight it in court.

But Fout said he never asked police to press charges.

“The police came up and they’d already escorted her out and wrote her a ticket,” he said. “What am I supposed to do, ask the police not to do it? Are they going to listen to me? No. They’re going to do what they want to do.”

I asked Fout why police would cite the woman if he weren’t pushing for it.

“C’mon, Jeff, you’re not stupid,” he said. “It’s $260 in revenue. They seized an opportunity.”

FYI, Godwin, who lives in Virginia, paid the fine rather than fly back to fight the charge. Prince, who wrote that he came away from the interview with the observation that Fout is a blowhard, took this as a sign that she’s not worthy of sympathy, because he once fought a jaywalking ticket for eight years until it was dismissed.

But that only makes him the second biggest stooge in this one. 

1 Strange state, Texas is, where the police don’t really bother with the investigation. They just issue misdemeanor tickets and let the courts do all the “investigation.”

2 Public response has been what you’d expect, forcing the Fort Worth Star-Ledger to disable comments on the article.

3 Proof:

Obviously the guy slanted the story because in all likelihood he’s a liberal,” Fout said.


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