News

Sex Abuse Allegations Increase in Juvenile Justice System

Formal sex abuse allegations against guards and other staff in state juvenile justice facilities have doubled, according to a study released last week by the the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to ProPublica, the report also claims that when investigations done by facility administrators confirm staff members sexually abused a juvenile, the staff members often receive no punishment beyond losing their jobs.  “We are talking about known perpetrators, adults who are typically employed in public facilities supported by our tax dollars,” said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International.

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Juvenile Court Officer Indicted for Allegedly Punching Teen

A juvenile court corrections officer was indicted on child abuse and assault charges yesterday for allegedly punching a 15-year-old boy, according to the Shelby County Sheriff’s office. Willie Jones was also indicted for official misconduct and official oppression, The Commercial Appeal reports. The alleged altercation was caught on video. "Let this serve as a reminder that this type of behavior will not be tolerated in any way," Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham said.

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11-year-old Found Guilty of First-Degree Murder

An 11-year-old White Pine boy was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2015 killing of an 8-year-old girl, the Citizen Tribune reports. Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said the juvenile court “ordered the boy to be sent to the Department of Children’s Services for a determinate sentence until his 19th birthday."

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Youth Courts Program Featured

WRKN writes about Tennessee’s Youth Courts program in Nashville, where students serve as attorneys, jurors, court clerks and court reporters for students who have committed minor crimes. According to Judge Sheila Calloway, fewer than 4 percent of kids reoffend after going through Youth Court, compared to the 18 to 40 percent chance of coming back in Juvenile Court. “They are being held accountable by people that they trust,” Calloway said.

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Courtroom Facility Dogs Debated in Bill

Lawmakers on Tuesday debated a bill (SB1618) that would give judges the discretion to determine whether to allow courtroom facility dogs in courtrooms, The Tennessean reports. Bill sponsor Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said there is currently no state code on the practice, so some judges are hesitant to allow the dogs into their courtrooms. The courtroom facility dogs are used to provide comfort to children who may be apprehensive to testify in court. “Who is losing in that whole process of waiting are the children,” said Marianne Schroer, executive director of Williamson County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

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Juvenile Court Judge Encourages Teachers

Juvenile Court Judge Kenlyn Foster shared education memories and encouragement for teachers during her keynote speech last night at Blount County Schools’ Excellence in Education Banquet. Foster is a 1986 graduate of the county's Heritage High School. Read more from The Daily Times.

Court Date Set for Teens in Assault Case

The court date for three teens charged in the assault of an Ooltewah student is set for March 15, WTVC reports. The students were charged in Sevier County for an incident that occurred in Gatlinburg during a basketball tournament. It is unclear if Sevier County prosecutors will charge the teens as adults. Three Ooltewah school staff members have also been charged in the incident for failing to report abuse. 

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Judge McAfee Files Complaint Against Judge Sammons

Eighth Judicial Circuit Judge John McAfee has filed a complaint with the Board of Judicial Conduct against Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. McAfee struck down several orders from Sammons to remove children from homes after lawyers for the state Department of Children Services said they did not seek removal of the children. Sammons on Friday attempted to appeal McAfee’s decisions.

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Murder Trial Underway for 11-Year-Old Boy

The Newport Plain Talk reports the trial of an 11-year-old boy in White Pine accused of fatally shooting an 8-year-old girl is underway in Jefferson County Juvenile Court. The boy was charged with first-degree murder on a juvenile petition.

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Supreme Court Ruling on Juveniles Could Impact Columbia Case

U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that juveniles serving life sentences for murder must be considered for parole may impact a Columbia case. Charles Lowe-Kelley was sentenced to two consecutive life terms when he was a teenager for the shooting deaths of two people. Thomas Hutto, Kelley's attorney, argues that the two terms are equal to life without parole because Kelley was a juvenile when sentenced. “I think (Monday’s ruling) gives a lot of good ammunition for an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Courts,” Hutto said. Read more from The Daily Herald

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Subpoenas to be Issued in Ooltewah Assault Case

A superintendent and principal are being subpoenaed to testify in the hearing for three officials at Ooltewah High School, WATE reports. Two coaches and the athletic director are facing charges for failing to report child sex abuse involving a basketball player. Three of the victim's teammates have been charged for the incident.

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Judge Denies Motions to Dismiss Charges in Student Assault Case

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw denied motions to dismiss the charges against two Ooltewah High School coaches and the school’s athletic director, The Times Free Press reports. The three men were charged last week for failing to report abuse during a basketball team trip. However, Philyaw noted that the statutes regarding mandatory reporting of abuse are not clearly written and need to be updated. "The statute doesn't say telling the doctor is good enough," Philyaw said. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for the three men on Feb. 15.

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Juvenile Court Judge Details Changes in Court System

Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael last Friday delivered an inaugural “State of the Court” address, in which he said his staff will be educated about juvenile trauma. "Most of these children come to us with some type of serious trauma," he said. Michael also detailed changes the court has made following a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice report that said the court discriminated against black children. Read more from The Commercial Appeal

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Report Calls for Agencies to Increase Child Protection Services

A report issued by the Second Look Commission illuminated what it calls “missed opportunities” for Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services to protect victims of repeat child abuse. Among its suggestions, the report called for better enforcement of court orders that result in “kinship placements,” in which children are removed from dangerous homes and allowed to stay with relatives. Read more from Nashville Public Radio.

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New Law Allows Tennesseans to Request Security Freezes

Tennesseans can now request a security freeze on persons under 16 or who are declared legally incapacitated that will prohibit consumer reporting agencies TransUnion, Experian and Equifax from releasing their credit report. WATE reports that under the new law, the requestor can request the freeze online and must provide valid proof of identification of themselves and the protected consumer.

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Court Adopts Proposed Rule Amendments; Packages Await Legislative OK

The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted proposed amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Juvenile Practice. The amendments are set to become effective July 1, 2016, but must first win approval by resolutions of the General Assembly.

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Judge Binkley Defends Rep. Durham on Facebook

Circuit Court Judge Michael W. Binkley is defending a request by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, in which he asked for leniency for a former pastor convicted of child porn possession, The Tennessean reports. Binkley said in a Facebook post that the decision showed “moral courage” and “guts.” The post has since been deleted.

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CASA Branch Created in Dickson County

Dickson County Juvenile Court Judge Michael Meise and Meagan Frazier Grosvenor of Smith Harris & Carr recently created a Dickson County branch of the Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA). “Many children in our community suffer horrific abuse and unfortunately most people have no idea that this is happening around us every day,” Grosvenor said. “These innocent children deserve all the help we can give them.” CASA of Dickson County, which is funded through private donations, is located at 111 Highway 70 East in Dickson. Read more from The Dickson Herald.

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State's 'Fetal Assault Law' to Expire in 2016

Tennessee’s “fetal assault law”, which charges pregnant mothers with assault for babies exposed to drugs, is set to expire next year. WCYB reports Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus is working to keep the law. "It is the incentive (mothers) need that otherwise they would not have gotten into a program, except for the fact if you don't get into a program, you could be charged,” he said. State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he expects lawmakers to renew the law.

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Bradley County CASA's Efforts Outlined by its Executive Director

Josiah Vacheresse, executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Bradley County, says CASA assisted children in 150 court cases in the last year.  “We are for the child who has been abused and doesn’t want to go home,” Vacheresse said during a Community Crime Reduction meeting Tuesday at Bradley County Juvenile Court. “We are for the child who has been in five foster homes and attended six schools in four years.” Read more from The Cleveland Daily Banner.

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Parents Sue Brentwood Church Following Sexual Assault

A Nashville-area family has filed a lawsuit against Fellowship Bible Church of Brentwood after alleging that a teenage volunteer sexually assaulted their three-year old child in a church bathroom. The teen has pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery, according to Nashville News 5. The civil suit alleges that the church did not perform adequate background checks or provide sufficient training to protect children, and sought to hide the incident from other families.

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Juvenile Court Reforms Slowly Helping, Leaders Say

Two years into reform of the Shelby County juvenile justice system, leaders warn that there needs to be more contact with teenagers before and after they enter juvenile court, not just while they are in custody. “The real effort long term has to be geared toward prevention, toward stopping the school-to-jail pipeline,” says Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush. Others argue more resources are needed for job creation or long term contacts that move teenagers away from gangs, the Memphis Daily News reports.

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Haslam to Hear From 26 Agencies Before Crafting Budget

Gov. Bill Haslam is kicking off a week of budget hearings today, the Associated Press reports. Among the 26 agencies that will testify are the Departments of Safety and Children’s Services on Tuesday, two education agencies on Wednesday, the Department of Correction on Thursday and the Department of Transportation on Friday. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Training Conference for Parents of At-Risk Males

The Conference for Single Parents Rearing At-Risk Males, a new three-day program implemented by Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway, will offer training for 250 parents of at-risk males referred to Building Families and Communities Missions. The program is planned for Dec. 11-13 in Nashville. For more information, including a program schedule, contact BFC Missions at 615-498-4669.

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A Glimpse into Nashville's Youth Courts Program

The Tennessean reports on the process and success of Nashville's youth courts, a system that allows students who are facing misdemeanor accusations to go before a jury of their peers. Teens who participate as lawyers and jurors are trained by Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway. According to advocates for the program, fewer than four percent of students who go through youth courts reoffend -- a much better success rate than those processed in juvenile court.

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