This story has been updated. See below.
Byron Dean Tolson — who goes by Dean — has a pretty incredible life story.
Growing up in poverty in a tough part of Kansas City, Missouri, he never learned to read, but his athletic talent caught the eye of college recruiters. He ended up attending the University of Arkansas, where he had an impressive career as a basketball player, despite remaining functionally illiterate.
Tolson left Arkansas reading at a fifth-grade level and spent three seasons in the NBA, playing for the Seattle SuperSonics before they packed up and left for Oklahoma City. When his basketball career ended, he returned to the University of Arkansas for a second time, this time as a serious student. He re-took the classes he'd previously failed and received his bachelor's degree at 36, followed by a master's degree at 55.
Now 65 and living in Scottsdale, Tolson makes a living as a motivational speaker. He's also written a yet-to-be-published memoir, titled, "The Magna Cum Laude In Me."
Lately, though, his life has taken a strange turn: after being accused of harassing a local consignment store employee, he was given a trespass warning, and is now suing the Scottsdale Police Department for emotional distress with the help of a lawyer who's been suspended by the state bar.
As the lawsuit that Tolson filed this week tells it, it all started back in November 2015, when he was trying to to pick up a bed that he'd ordered. When he arrived at Terri's Consign and Design, he was told by employees that he'd have to wait while it was assembled.
He sat down on a couch and started talking on the phone to a business associate on the phone about a pending book deal. Because of his hearing loss from his Army days, he was speaking loudly, and a store employee asked him to take the call outside or to the back.
Tolson yelled at her, saying she shouldn't talk to him like that, then went outside to the loading dock. A few minutes later, a police car showed up.
According to Tolson's lawsuit, the officer, who is identified only in official documents as "T. Jones," said that he "should have never been called for something like this," but "had to issue something" because the store's employees had asked him to. He then handed Tolson a trespass warning, barring him from returning to the store for a year.
The police report from the incident tells a slightly different story.
"Cheryl [Sieck, the store manager] confirmed that Byron has bought items in the store, but has not purchased the bed," Officer Jones wrote. "She told me that Byron sits in the store for several hours not buying anything. She also stated that he contentiously asks her out on dates and she turns him down. She said that she does not feel comfortable with him in the store and wants him trespassed."
In his lawsuit, Tolson says that the interaction with the Scottsdale Police Department violated his civil rights and caused him serious emotional distress.
"Tolson is an African American man and feared for his life at the moment and was worried due to the recent spate of police involved shootings," the complaint notes. "He also was concerned that the officer might mistake his cell phone for a weapon."
He also says that the incident triggered his PTSD and gave him flashbacks to a traumatic episode that took place back in 1983, when police in Tacoma, Washington, mistook him and his friends for the suspects in a drive-by shooting and searched them at gunpoint.
Furthermore, the lawsuit states, Tolson's run-in with the Scottsdale Police derailed his career as a motivational speaker and author.
"Due to his career as [a] speaker often in schools, Tolson has to undergo a thorough background check and clearance," the complaint states. "Due to the existence of the Trespass Warning, Tolson could not respond to numerous invitations and opportunities to speak over the year and had to put his book deal on hold, causing him to lose potential income."
He's asking for $1.5 million in damages, as well as attorney's fees.
That seems like an unlikely outcome, given that Lyndon B. Steimel, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, has been suspended from the state bar and is not currently allowed to practice law in Arizona.
Steimel was disciplined for failing to competently represent a client who had hired him for a bankruptcy case, court records show. He'd also previously been placed on two years probation and ordered to pay over $18,000 in restitution back in May 2015, after he essentially disappeared on a client who been one of Bernie Madoff's victims and had hired him to take legal action against the disgraced investment banker.
New Times attempted to get in touch with Steimel by phone and e-mail, but did not receive a response. We were unable to find a working phone number for Dean Tolson.
The Scottsdale Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, in keeping with their policy to not comment on pending litigation.
Update, 3/30: Dean Tolson called New Times to say that he just found out his attorney has been suspended from practicing law, and has been seeking a replacement but so far hasn’t found anyone willing to take the case.
He also disputed the claims that he had been sexually harassing Cheryl Stieck, the store manager.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
“The day I asked her to dinner was a different day than when the police were called,” he said. “It’s two separate issues, but they want to make it look like harassment. Do you know why I asked her to dinner? She sold me $7,000 worth of furniture that she was getting a commission on, and she gave me a discount. I told her that I would like to buy her dinner as a thank you.”
You can view and download the lawsuit and the police report below: