In the lawsuit, which was transferred to federal court after originally being filed in Jasper County Circuit Court, Barbara Watters is asking for the return of her husband's body and some other items that were seized when the Joplin Police Department executed a search warrant at her home at 2602 S. Vermont Avenue November 12, payment of attorney fees and costs and an unspecified amount in punitive damages for "gross violation of her civil rights."
The petition indicates that her husband Paul Barton died in September 2019, rather than the December 2018 date mentioned in court records and in news releases.
Listed as defendants in the case are the City of Joplin, Joplin Police Department and Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappell. Watters is represented by Joplin attorney Austin Knoblock.
The allegations are spelled out in the petition:
The Plaintiff is married to Paul Barton, DOB: 5/15/1948. The Plaintiff and Paul Barton have been married for more than 20 years. Paul Barton died in September of 2019. Because the Plaintiff and Paul Barton were married at his time of death, the Plaintiff is his next of kin and has the Right of Sepulcher pursuant to RSMO 194.119.
On or about November 12, 2019, the Joplin Police Department executed a search warrant on the Plaintiff’s home 2602 S. Vermont St., Joplin, Missouri. The Search warrant was for an alleged charge of Abandonment of a Corpse.
In the Affidavit for Search, the scope of the search was limited to: “The body of Paul Barton, a white male [Date of birth May 15th 1948] trace evidence, DNA, blood, hairs, fibers, and other physical evidence, or biological forensic evidence.”
The Officers of the Joplin Police Department that executed the search warrant seized items outside of the scope of the search warrant, and flagrantly disregarded the scope of the warrant by doing so.
The following items are some, but not limited to all, of the items that were seized that were not covered under the scope of the search warrant: a. Plaintiff’s Marriage License, Paul Barton’s signed affidavit of a refusal to donate organs, Paul Barton’s Power of Attorney, a book titled: “You Were Born Again to be Together,” a book titled: “Body Brokers,” a handgun, a syringe, a “book located on the floor by the bed,” a “Page from address book located on desk in front room,” a “Legal pad located on desk in front room,” several “miscellaneous documents from file cabinet in fron(t) (sic) room,” a “Pill bottle from chest in front room,” more “Misc documents from chest of drawers by freezer in front room,” a shotgun from the foyer closet, “misc pill bottles located in kitchen,” a “dolly with board located in breezeway between house and garage,” a “book located on end table in SE bedroom,” “medication located in closet of SW bedroom,”
The Officers of the Joplin Police Department significantly departed from the scope of the search warrant regarding many of the seized items.
All charges in connection with the alleged crime have been dismissed. On or about February 22, 2020, a demand letter was sent by certified mail to the Joplin Police Department for the return of all of the Plaintiff’s property that was seized during the search.
On or about March 6, 2020, Plaintiff received a letter from the Joplin City Attorney, Jordan Paul, describing several of the items that were seized and their current whereabouts and/or condition. Plaintiff was advised that the body of her husband, Paul Barton, was in the possession of the Jasper County Coroner, Rob Chappel, where the body continues to remain to this day despite several requests and a certified demand letter sent on March 26, 2020 to Mr. Chappel.
Plaintiff was advised in the letter from James Paul that the freezer that was seized by the Joplin Police was destroyed. Some of the property seized was returned, with the exception of Paul Barton’s body, several documents, and the “Dolly” described in the police report.
A letter from Joplin City Attorney, Jordan Paul, on March 25, 2020, described the dolly as “damaged beyond repair.” Based on City Attorney Jordan Paul’s statement concerning the body of Paul Barton, a demand letter was sent to and received by Jasper County Coroner, Rob Chappel.
In addition, several email and verbal requests have been made to Jasper County Coroner, Rob Chappel for the return of Mr. Barton’s Body, the autopsy report, and the Death Certificate.
The Autopsy report was just received on April 30, 2020, however neither Mr. Barton’s body, nor the Death Certificate have been received. Without the Death Certificate, the death cannot be properly recorded with the County.
As next of kin and having Right of Sepulcher, the Plaintiff is in charge of Final Disposition and the Death Certificate is required to be furnished to her pursuant to RSMO 193.145. 28. This entire situation has caused the Plaintiff substantial emotional harm.
The continued refusal to return the body of Paul Barton to the Plaintiff is continuing to cause further emotional damage. Because the Joplin Police Department departed from the scope of their search warrant so significantly, there was damage caused to the Plaintiff’s home, and the Plaintiff now lives in even further fear of the Joplin Police Department.
Plaintiff has suffered substantial financial and emotional harm because of this ongoing issue that Plaintiff has brought to the Defendants’ attention on numerous occasions. The Plaintiff is requesting the Defendant to pay for all attorney fees and costs in this matter.
When the abandonment of a corpse charge was dismissed against Watters, Judge Joseph Hensley issued the following ruling:
Defendant and her husband, Paul Barton, lived together in Joplin, but slept in separate beds in different rooms. Mr. Barton died in his bedroom.
The Defendant subsequently drug him into her bedroom using a blanket from his bed. Using a wooden ramp, she lifted and placed his wrapped body in a working freezer she previously purchased for that purpose.
The freezer, and Barton’s body, remained in Defendant’s bedroom until JPD executed a search warrant on November 12th, 2019.
Neither Defendant nor anyone else notified the Jasper or Newton County Coroner’s office regarding Mr. Barton’s death when he passed away. There is no suggestion Mr. Barton died of anything other than natural causes.