A reserve sheriff’s deputy accused by opponents of Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel of having potential terrorist ties has filed a defamation lawsuit against the accusers.
Edmond dentist Eli Tanios Jarjoura says Darrell Sorrels, who lost his bid for sheriff in an election Nov. 6, disseminated false and harmful information about him on Facebook during his election campaign.
The lawsuit alleges Sorrels repeated some of the information on his Facebook page from an article initially published in an online newsletter by Al Gerhart, a founding member of the Sooner tea party.
Gerhart, as well as Sorrels’ campaign manager, Steve Long, and a campaign assistant, Carol Knight, are named as co-defendants in the petition, filed Oct. 24 in Oklahoma County District Court.
Hails from Lebanon
Jarjoura, 47, and of Lebanese descent, is owner of Bright Smiles Family Dentistry. He says the article caused him emotional distress and damaged his reputation, and is asking for damages in excess of $75,000.
The article questions whether Jarjoura has terrorist ties and whether Whetsel overlooked the dentist’s criminal background when selecting him as a reserve deputy.
Gerhart said what prompted his concerns was discovering that Jarjoura had contributed thousands of dollars in cash and vehicles to the department and to Whetsel’s re-election campaign about the same time he began training as a reserve deputy. Public records show Jarjoura contributed money and vehicles during that time.
Jarjoura and Whetsel have vehemently denied the accusations of terrorist ties or using contributions to become a reserve deputy, and accused the article’s authors of racism. Jarjoura also denied having a criminal record. Gerhart later retracted part of the article.
Named as defendants
Knight is named as a defendant because she provided the information used to prepare the article, according to the lawsuit; Long because he republished the article on his online blog, and Freedom Bail Bonds because an employee posted hyperlinks to the article on the business’ Facebook page, according to the lawsuit.
Jarjoura said he is a Christian and that he volunteers 60 to 120 hours each month enforcing traffic laws for the county sheriff’s office because he has a passion for law enforcement.
“Dr. Jarjoura is a hardworking, generous dentist who donates his time and money to the sheriff’s office and the tea party is attempting to punish him for that,” said his attorney, Robert Lafferandre, on Thursday.
“These articles, when read as a whole, in my opinion try to characterize him as a terrorist and that is so far from what Dr. Jarjoura is.”
Sorrels did not return phone calls on Thursday, and both Long and Knight referred questions to their attorney, Mark Wilson. Wilson, who is representing each of the defendants, also declined to comment.