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Document: Mary Choate Order

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TEXARKANA, Ark. — A Miller County circuit judge's order has kept the director of the county's Juvenile Detention Center from stepping on the facility's property or contacting employees since September.

The order, obtained by the Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request, accuses Mary Choate of publicly threatening to fire the center's administrator for reporting to a juvenile court hearing in August as ordered by Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson.

"The said Mary Choate is alleged to have displayed outrageous behavior, coercion and intimidation in public unbecoming a supervisor," the Sept. 4 order states.

Choate's attorney Jason Owens of Conway, Arkansas, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Former Administrator Tyna Nix was summoned to court Aug. 21 by Johnson to give testimony in two hearings concerning the early release of two juvenile detainees. Nix reported to the court that Choate had told her not to attend but was instructed by Johnson to disregard Choate's directive and obey the court's summons. Choate allegedly learned of Nix's appearance prior to the hearing and confronted Nix in the second-floor hallway of the Miller County Courthouse in full view of court security staff and other members of the public.

"When the employee (Nix) was asked to give her reportshe was visibly upset and on the verge of crying and was shaking from the verbal assault she had just endured in the hallway while awaiting to testify by Mary Choate and was barely able to respond to questions of the court," the order states. "The court finds that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a hearing for the said Mary Choate to show cause why she should not be found in contempt of court and for obstruction of court proceedings"

The order describes Choate's alleged conduct in the courthouse as intimidating and humiliating, expresses concern that future misconduct and retaliation may occur and accuses Choate of creating a "toxic work environment" at the juvenile facility.

The order prohibits Choate from being within 1,000 feet of the juvenile detention facility or juvenile court offices and warns Choate not to contact juvenile detention employees either on her own or through a third party "in order to coerce, intimidate, humiliate, threaten" or attempt to pressure employees to withhold testimony. The order further instructs Miller County law enforcement to arrest Choate should she be found in violation of the order.

According to Miller County court staff, a final hearing on the issues of Choate's alleged contempt and obstruction has not occurred because of changes in Choate's legal representation, delays caused by fall and winter holidays and the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the Miller County Quorum Court have expressed frustration at recent meetings because Choate is being paid while not working.

As Johnson's order is filed in a sealed juvenile court case, it was not publicly available prior to the Gazette's request for it under FOIA.

Miller County Quorum Court members agreed to suspend Choate without pay.

Choate made history in Bowie County, Texas, as the first woman elected as sheriff in 1988. She served as the county's sheriff from 1989 to the end of 2000.

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