Claims deadline nears in Rutherford County trial over illegal arrests

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They are now teenagers, former students of Hobgood Elementary School in Murfreesboro who, in 2016, were handcuffed and taken to jail in police cars.

The 10 accused children had witnessed an off-campus brawl between a 5 and 6 year old, and their crime (which later turned out not to be a felony at all) was that they were not intervened to stop it.

What they didn’t know at the time was that a Rutherford County judge was illegally working with police to jail children, mostly children of color, for more than a decade.

When they were taken to prison, some of the children cried. Some children have done their homework. One of them took a Bible.

And now, more than five years later, they are closer to being punished. In total, more than 1,400 minors who have been illegally arrested in previous years have until October 29 to join a class action lawsuit in which they will receive $ 4,800 for each unlawful incarceration and $ 1,000 for each unlawful arrest. .

So far, less than 200 plaintiffs have joined the lawsuit, in which up to $ 11 million will be divided among those who were illegally imprisoned as children. Due to the statute of limitations, applicants must be born on or after October 14, 1997.

At the time, the revelation of Hobgood’s arrests sparked shock and outrage from community leaders.

“It is unimaginable, unfathomable that authority figures are doing something that has such implications,” said Bishop Joseph Walker III, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville. “When we, as a community, tell our children not to be involved in violence and not to put ourselves in danger, (stopping them for not intervening) is the most amazing paradox in our society – and it is devastating for us. “

Background: Illegally incarcerated as minors, 1,450 eligible for $ 11 million Rutherford County settlement

At Olive Branch Church in Murfreesboro, the pastor adopted a similar tone.

“I am not talking about hardened criminals; I am not talking about gangsters or gangsters,” said Vincent L. Windrow, his voice amplifying with rage. “We are talking about children.… Such a lack of humanity.”

“Someone has targeted these kids,” said Windrow, who is also assistant vice-chancellor for student success at Middle Tennessee State University. “Not only is it sickening, but it’s so revealing. Who knew this was part of a much larger and ongoing evil strategy?”

The plan to incarcerate the children was under the direction of juvenile court judge Donna Davenport, elected in 2000. Davenport, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, worked as an assistant instructor for more than a decade.

The MTSU cut ties with Davenport around October 12, more than five years after the Hobgood incident.

Davenport worked with Judicial Commissioner Amy Anderson, who drafted the petitions for the arrest of children, and Police Officer Chrystal Templeton, who oversaw the arrests and transportation of the children to the Juvenile Detention Center in Rutherford County.

Sometimes the children spent up to a week in prison.

“A lack of humanity”: Pastor and NAACP condemn decades of unlawful youth arrests and jail in County Rutherford

Kazmere Watts, who fought as a 14-year-old freshman at Oakland High School, has been jailed for assault.

Watts remembers that he did not want to eat or use the toilet in the detention center.

While in prison, Watts said he had completed his schoolwork. He also kept a Bible.

He now flaunts his Christian faith through a cross tattoo on his forearm and earrings with crosses. A high school graduate in 2017, Watts is one of the first plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.

“I think the system has to change,” Watts said, “and I hope that’s the stepping stone for this thing to happen.”

Despite the illegal arrests, Davenport still serves as a juvenile court judge in Rutherford County. In 2015, she was the debut speaker at MTSU.

She told the graduates: “To be successful you have to see yourself in the human relations arena – in your personal life as well as in your professional life… When you help others, you are always helping yourself. Growing up – becoming who you are – oh, that takes a lot of courage. You need courage to accept yourself for who you really are. And God definitely requires you to be sincere, open-minded, and righteous.

Five things to know: Rutherford County’s troubled history of child arrest and imprisonment

The plaintiffs in the class action are represented by Brazil Clark PLLC of Nashville.

Contact Keith Sharon at 615-406-1594 or [email protected] or on Twitter @KeithSharonTN.


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