De-fense! De-fense!

Cowboys defensive coordinator Dave Campo gets taken to court for not hitting a man

Fred Washington's lawyer does not want his client's picture taken for this story. Attorney Eric Fein believes that if you were to see a picture of Washington, who stands about 5-foot-11 and weighs a little more than 200 pounds, you might not be so quick to believe that he could be intimidated--threatened, actually--by Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who, according to his lawyers, is a mere 5-foot-8 and weighs no more than 170 pounds. See for yourself: That's a picture of Campo at right, talking to former Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer, who appears to be addressing a child. Seriously, which man in that picture looks scary?

Washington--a limo driver for a very wealthy oilman--says it's Campo who accosted him in the Texas Stadium parking lot on December 8, 1997, after the Cowboys lost to the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. Washington claims he was minding his own business, talking to a friend on a cellular phone about how awful the Cowboys were, when Campo approached him, berated him with obscene language, and even threatened him--not physically, but mentally.

Campo never hit Washington, never even took a swing at him. He just yelled at him. Told him to "shut the fuck up." Called him a few names. Got in his face. But no more.

But still, last January, Washington filed a suit in Dallas County district court alleging that Campo caused him "extreme fear, humiliation, and mental and emotional distress"--at least $50,000 worth.

"I was really hurt, man," Washington says during an interview with the Dallas Observer. "I was really, really hurt. My feelings were hurt. He was a man yellin' and shoutin' at me, and [it's about] the arrogance of the Cowboys. They felt they could do anything they wanted to, step on anybody they wanted to, say anything they wanted to, and here I am getting treated that way."

After talking with Washington for a while, it becomes evident he filed the suit because he's too proud to let Campo get away with calling him names "like I wasn't even there." He talks about a childhood spent "in the 'hood of Washington, D.C.," how his mother died when he was only 12 years old and he was forced to drop out of school when he was 16 to help take care of his grandmother and 10 brothers and sisters. The family was so poor, he insists, "I didn't even have tennies on my feet."

In his deposition, Washington often talks about his love for the Cowboys and especially former coach Tom Landry; he mentions how difficult it was to be a Dallas Cowboys fan in Washington Redskins territory. "I was hated up there," he says, laughing. "When they came to Washington, I would go to Dulles Airport [to meet the Cowboys' plane]."

In the early 1980s, he was given the opportunity to move here when his employer, a furniture company, promoted him. A few years later, he resigned and went to work for a friend's limo company as a driver. He says a headhunter contacted him about going to work for M.B. "Duke" Rudman, the 80-something oilman millionaire.

Washington eventually signed on as Rudman's full-time limo driver, which is why he was at the game last December. He sits in Rudman's luxury suite at Texas Stadium during every home game and went down to prepare the car after the Panthers game when he ran headlong into the temper tantrum known as Dave Campo.

In his deposition, Campo admits that he "might have reacted differently than normal" when he confronted Washington that night. He says he was "upset a little bit...emotionally upset," and that "it was an emotional game" because the loss to Carolina hurt the Cowboys' chances of making the playoffs last season--as if. "And it was a good possibility that we could be in trouble as a coaching staff," he says, referring to owner Jerry Jones' unhappiness with the team's pitiful performance that season.

Campo says that after the game, he headed to his car in the parking lot near Gate 8, which is reserved for Cowboys personnel, VIPs, and limos. According to Campo, on the way to his car, he passed Washington, who was talking on a cellular phone. Campo says in his deposition that Washington had his back to him, but that he could hear what Washington was saying into his phone as he walked past: "Those stupid son-of-a-bitches, they lost, they got their ass kicked in their own fucking stadium," Campo recalls in his deposition. "They ought to get fired...And I'll tell you another fucking thing, they ought to fire that fucking [offensive coordinator Ernie] Zampese and that fucking Campo. They both suck."

Washington insists that he doesn't use foul language, and that he told his friend on the other end of the cellular phone only that the Cowboys "got beat in their own back yard" and that "Jerry should fire all of them." But they both agree on one thing: When Campo heard Washington bad-mouthing the team, the defensive coordinator went on the offensive, shouting at the limo driver to "shut the fuck up"--twice, no less. (And this is from Campo's own recollection of the event. Washington recalls that Campo told him to go "'f' myself.")

At this point, Campo and Washington agree that Washington shut his phone and stuck it in his pocket. Washington says he remained in place and asked Campo what his problem was; Campo insists Washington began approaching him, assumed a threatening stance, and said, "Come on, motherfucker. I'll kick your fucking ass right now. Let's go."

Washington says that even though he didn't know who Campo was (yet), he wasn't about to throw-down with the guy. "I was very, very scared," he insists--even though Campo had one hand in his pocket and was holding a leather satchel in the other. For a while, both men apparently stood there, staring at each other in silence, each afraid the other man was going to take a swing at him. About this time, Washington realized who Campo was and says he told Campo he didn't mean anything, that "it's just a game."

"He was yelling all these obscenities at me--bastard, f-you," Washington recalls. "And when I realized who this guy was and what had just taken place, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure this man is ballistic. At that particular time, he had just lost to Green Bay, and his own boss criticized him all over the paper about his defense. So I'm standing there with a madman screaming at me."

Campo says that the two traded a few more remarks but that he eventually backed off, afraid a man of Washington's size could hurt him and equally worried that if he got into a fight with a fan, he could lose his job. Campo says he told Washington, "Hey, fuck you," then turned to walk away when the limo driver taunted him: "Oh, you're nothing but a little fucking pussy, anyway." Washington says his exact words were that he called Campo "a faggot."

Either way, Campo recalls he wheeled around, dropped the briefcase, and accepted the challenge. "OK," he recalls saying, "if you want to go now." Campo says the impending fight was broken up by a cop and that he just let it go, even when the officer asked if he wanted to pursue the matter. "I said to [the officer], 'Don't worry about it,'" Campo explains in his deposition. "Nowhere in my mind did I think that there would be any lawsuit from an argument in a parking lot."

He could not have been more wrong. Washington says he was so upset over the argument, he couldn't sleep that night--"I was a nervous wreck," he says--and remains nervous to this day about going to Texas Stadium because he parks his limo next to the coaches' parking lot. He says he only decided to file suit against Campo when a friend asked him what he was going to do about the situation.

"Something's gotta be done about it," Washington says. "I was attacked; I was assaulted."

"Mr. Campo shows a lack of self-control and professionalism," lawyer Fein says. "His decision-making is flawed by his temper, and this case shows that Mr. Campo is not a good example for his players nor for the children of the Dallas metropolitan area or for Cowboy fans in general."

In March, Campo explored the possibility of settling the suit, even though his lawyer, Patrick Wadlington, insists in legal documents that the coach "considers the risk of an adverse judgment against him and in favor of Washington to be less than zero." If nothing else, Campo figured it would be easier and cheaper to settle than to waste thousands in legal fees.

Eric Fein and Pat Wadlington sent missives back and forth concerning possible settlements. Campo was prepared to concede Washington a "nuisance" settlement. But damned if the coach was going to pay the $42,000 Washington was demanding (he initially wanted $50,000). Campo's offer was more along the lines of $2,000, which Fein rejected in a letter to Wadlington. In that same letter, Fein also threatened Wadlington with making the case public if Campo doesn't pay up.

"It is most likely that this will be the last opportunity to dispose of this matter discreetly," Fein wrote. Two days later, on April 8, Wadlington shot back a note that accused Fein and Washington of looking for "hush money" from the Cowboys. "The playing of your 'media card' is simply not going to earn you the jackpot," Wadlington wrote.

In April, Wadlington and Fein did manage to set up a settlement conference between Campo and Washington. But the meeting never happened.

According to Wadlington, Fein informed Campo and his attorneys that Washington was "too scared and upset" over his previous altercation with Campo and couldn't even sit in the same room with the coach, which was "ridiculous," says Wadlington in legal documents. The meeting was canceled, as were any future talks of settling the suit. Now, it is likely this case will go to trial in January, unless Campo and the Cowboys are involved in post-season play.

Washington says he doesn't expect to get rich off the Cowboys, that he merely wants to show Campo he can't get away with treating a man so badly. He doesn't even want an apology--"it wouldn't be sincere," he says--merely to get even. As Washington says, "It has to cost him in some way."

For his part, Wadlington is amused by the whole lawsuit. He won't say it's the silliest lawsuit he's ever had to defend...but he won't deny it either. He prefers to call it "frivolous."

"Given the allegations that have been made and the evidence presented, I think it's sad that Dave Campo and the Dallas Cowboys have been dragged into the courthouse over an incident as insignificant as this," he offers. "I am sure that if this did not involve a Dallas Cowboy, there would be no lawsuit here. That's the only reason this has been filed."

The funny thing is, Fred Washington doesn't disagree.

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