Man says Ojeda got him fired over motoring dispute
CHARLESTON — A Monaville, West Virginia, man who was recently fired from his job after posting a video of state Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, illegally passing his car is suing Ojeda for civil rights violations, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in the Southern District of West Virginia.
The suit alleges Ojeda — who is currently running for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District — violated the First Amendment by using his influence and power as a sitting member of the state Senate to try to hinder David Woolsey’s right to free speech.
Woolsey posted a Facebook video April 20 that shows Ojeda passing Woolsey and his then-co-worker, John Miller, over double yellow lines on a blind curve on W.Va. 10. The men were driving a furniture truck.
According to the suit, Miller reportedly told Woolsey a vehicle was quickly approaching behind them. At that point, a red, two-door Jeep Wrangler passed them in a no-passing zone with double yellow lines. The Jeep reportedly passed a number of other vehicles in no-passing zones, but no video was taken at that time, according to the suit.
Presuming Ojeda was possibly involved in an emergency situation, the men said they gave it little thought until they came upon Harts Middle School and reportedly observed the senator placing a political sign in front of the facility.
Shortly thereafter, the suit claimed Ojeda once again caught up with the furniture truck, again speeding. Woolsey used his cellphone to record the incident. The plaintiff uploaded the video to social media and narrated it to explain what they witnessed as they were once again passed in a no-passing zone with double yellow lines, entering a curve. The suit denies Ojeda’s subsequent allegation that Miller kept speeding up and slowing down to elicit a response from the senator.
The video quickly spread across Facebook, and Ojeda did a Facebook Live session on his official campaign page in response to the incident.
In the video, which has since been deleted, Ojeda called Woolsey an “oxygen thief,” along with other insults. Ojeda also reprimanded McCormick’s Furniture, where Woolsey had worked for 10 years and whose truck he was traveling in when he filmed the video, for its employees’ actions.
The day after both videos were posted, Ojeda reportedly called furniture store owner David McCormick, who said in an interview with the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the senator apologized for putting the business in the middle of the argument.
The next Monday, Woolsey said he was called into McCormick’s office and fired.
The lawsuit alleges that Ojeda’s video was an attempt by a public official to “retaliate” against Woolsey, who said he was practicing his First Amendment rights when he posted the original video of Ojeda. It also alleges the phone call made by Ojeda to McCormick was a further act of retaliation and therefore a violation of the First Amendment, according to court case precedents.
The suit is calling for damages to be awarded to Woolsey for loss of compensation, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, attorney’s fees, punitive damages and anything else the court deems as fair.
The suit was prepared for the Southern District Court in Charleston by Union, West Virginia, attorney John H. Bryan.
Nancy Peyton is a news reporter for HD Media. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @NPeytonLB.