News

Mother of Child Who Killed Himself Waives Rights to Pretrial Hearing

The mother of a three-year-old boy who shot himself with a pistol in the family’s vehicle waived her rights Monday to a pretrial hearing, the Chattanoogan reports. Kelly Pittman’s charges – criminally negligent homicide and child endangerment – now go straight to the Grand Jury.

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Bill Would Repeal 'Spiritual Treatment' Exemption to Child Neglect Law

The state Senate last week unanimously approved a bill that would repeal the "spiritual treatment" exemption to the state's child abuse and neglect statute, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The measure (SB 1761 / HB 2043) is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a cardiac surgeon. The exemption was at the center of a case involving the 2002 death of a Loudon County girl after her mother refused medical care in favor of “spiritual treatment” and prayer. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday.

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Judge Sammons Barred From Handling Child Neglect Case

Eighth Judicial District Judge Shayne Sexton today removed Campbell County General Sessions Court Judge Amanda Sammons from presiding over a child neglect case, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Sammons is currently facing an investigation for her handling of the case, in which she is accused of changing the defendant’s charges without notifying her or prosecutors. Also today, the News Sentinel reports that a number of jailers with the Campbell County Sheriff's Office appeared in Sexton's court prepared to confirm that Sammons had changed the charge.

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$10M Suit Filed Against Bus Driver Charged With Rape

A $10 million lawsuit was filed Thursday against a Hamilton County bus driver charged with the 2015 rape of a teenage student, the Times Free Press reports. The teen’s guardians are seeking the amount in punitive and compensatory damages and have requested a jury trial.

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Lebo Appointed to Williamson County Juvenile Court

The Brentwood Home Page reports Magistrate William C. Lebo was appointed to serve in Williamson County Juvenile Court. Lebo replaces Magistrate Joshua L. Rogers, who is leaving the position after nine years. Lebo previously served as a Guardian Ad Litem in private practice and as a Magistrate for the Montgomery County Juvenile Court.

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Student Facing Charges for Emojis in Threat

A 12-year-old Virginia girl is facing criminal charges after making threats against her middle school using emojis in an Instagram post. The case may force authorities to determine exactly what emojis – cartoonish symbols depicting emotions and items – mean, The Washington Post reports. The article details other recent cases where the use of emojis and emoticons in criminal proceedings has been debated.

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Judge Dismisses Charges Against Former Bristol Principal

Judge Jerry Beck on Wednesday dismissed charges of child abuse and attempted child neglect charges against former Bristol school principal Jerry Poteat, the Herald Courier reports. Poteat, who was accused of locking a 5-year-old out of the school in January, cannot be charged again for the incident.

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Trial Begins for Principal Accused of Locking Child Outside

The trial of a former Bristol principal accused of locking a five-year-old student out of school in winter temperatures is underway, the Herald Courier reports. Jerry Poteat, who resigned as principal but remains an employee of the school system on unpaid suspension, shared photos and videos of the little girl outside in January with others at the school. Poteat pleaded not guilty to felony attempted child abuse and attempted child neglect. “You’ll need to apply common sense to what is presented,” Assistant District Attorney General Julie Canter told jurors.

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Gang Investigator Starts New Program for Teens

Troubled teens in Memphis now have a new place to go to learn how to stay out of trouble, News Channel 3 reports. Jimmy Chambers from the Shelby County DA’s Office has started Camp Chambers. “They on the borderline,” Chambers says. “We want to grab those children to let them know there is another chance. You don't have to go that way.”

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Campbell County Judge to Face Investigation

Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons faces an investigation for her handling of a child neglect case, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The newspaper says that records show Sammons ordered the defendant's charge changed without knowledge of police, prosecutors or the judicial magistrate who authorized the original warrant. The Tennessee District Attorney General's Conference confirmed Thursday that it is seeking a special prosecutor to conduct the probe, requested by Eighth Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler, whose district includes Campbell County.

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Vogel Suspension Complicates Child Torture Case

Jessica Ann Cox, a stepmom accused of tortuous abuse of her stepsons, has requested new legal counsel be provided by the state following the Tennessee Supreme Court’s suspension of her former counsel, Robert Vogel. Cox says she cannot afford to hire new counsel. Vogel was suspended earlier this month for having sex with a client in a court-appointed case and the incident has repeatedly delayed Cox’s case. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Bill Would Extend Statue of Limitations for Child Abuse Civil Actions

The House Civil Justice Committee today passed HB2593 by Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville.  As amended, the bill extends the statue of limitations for civil actions based on an injury resulting from child sexual abuse that occurred when the person was a minor but was not discovered until after the person became an adult. The bill would extend the period to seven years from the discovery of the abuse. The bill, supported by the TBA, has also been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville.

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Attorneys Needed for Child Support Contempt Services in Davidson County

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts is seeking attorneys to represent indigent respondents facing contempt of court charges for failure to pay court-ordered child support in Title IV-D child support enforcement proceedings in Davidson County Juvenile Court. Judges will continue to have the discretion to appoint attorneys, however the AOC is seeking licensed attorneys to contract with the office. The application form is available online; contact David Byrne, 615-741-6285, for more information.

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Judge Seeks Clarification of Mandatory Reporting Law

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw asked lawmakers to clarify the state’s mandatory reporting law, including the time frame of reporting. The judge’s request comes after he sent a case against three Ooltewah High School officials to a grand jury after the officials failed to report the abuse of a student. "There's an argument that could be made that Victim 1 was reported the next day, but that's not good enough. And there's no proof that the other three were reported," Philyaw said. Read more from WRCB.

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Brentwood Toddler Rape Case Moving Forward

Kathryn Barnett, attorney for the family of a 3-year old rape victim, said she is moving forward with discovery in the case following a judge's decision last week not to strike "offensive" allegations from the lawsuit. The alleged incident took place at Brentwood's Fellowship Baptist Church in 2014 while the toddler’s parents were attending a service. Barnett said the church failed to respond to discovery requests submitted Nov. 30 and she will now gather depositions from the church's leadership. In the suit, the parents say the church urged them not to pursue criminal charges and did not contact them about the incident until nearly a year after it occurred. The trial is planned for April 2017, Brentwood Home Page reports

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Judge Sends Ooltewah Case to Grand Jury

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw today sent cases against two Ooltewah High basketball coaches and the athletic director to the Grand Jury after determining there was evidence to proceed on charges of not reporting child abuse. The men were charged after an alleged assault of an Ooletwah freshman during a basketball tournament. Philyaw said three other team members were victims as well. The three men will have to be booked at the County Jail within 30 days, The Chattanoogan reports. The three teens charged in the assault will appear in court next month.

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Suit Against Metro Schools Dismissed

Chancery Court Chancellor Ellen Lyle ruled in favor of Metro Nashville Public Schools schools today and dismissed a lawsuit that alleged the schools sought to inflate test scores by enrolling students in credit recovery programs. The lawsuit, filed in December, said a former student was removed from class to take a predictive test and then made to take remedial classes, which caused the student to fall behind. The school district argued that the student had “no constitutional right” to be moved onto the next grade. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Judge Denies Striking 'Offensive' Allegations in Toddler Rape Case

Defense attorney Minton Mayer motioned to strike certain “offensive” allegations outlined in a $37.5 million lawsuit filed in November against Brentwood’s Fellowship Bible Church involving the rape of a three-year-old boy, Brentwood Home Page reports. The lawsuit, filed in Williamson County Circuit Court, alleges the church tried to hide the incident from the parents and included phrases like "the church was a haven for predators.” Mayer argues the statements were intended to catch the attention of the media. Judge Michael W. Binkley denied Mayer’s motion to strike, but said a gag order in the case may be fair following an investigation by counsel.

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Attorneys and Metro Schools Team Up to Help Parents

Nashville public defender Dawn Deaner has teamed up with the district attorney, the Criminal Court Clerk's Office and Metro Schools to offer a “cafeteria courtroom” program to parents. The goal is to help low-income parents, chosen by the schools, understand and resolve minor legal issues without having to choose between going to work and going to court. "The reality is that a $50 ticket for someone living below the poverty line has such greater consequences," Deaner said. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Study: Mental Disorders Common in Shelby Juvenile System

At least 60 percent of children in Shelby County who come in contact with the juvenile justice system have a mental disorder, according to the Mental Health Juvenile Justice Policy Academy Action Network. The group’s study also reveals 30 percent of the children have a learning disability and 70 percent of the children have gone through some sort of traumatic event. Read more from WREG.

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Shelby Juvenile Court Gets Money for Upgrades

The Shelby County Commission approved $569,783 for the Juvenile Court to use in adding personnel and court upgrades. The expenses are necessary to keep the court in compliance with the memorandum of agreement between the county, the court and the U.S. Department of Justice, The Commercial Appeal reports. Court upgrades include installing bullet-proof safety glass for the judicial chambers.

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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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