Legislative Black Caucus member calls on TN AG to investigate Rutherford County Juvenile Judge

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RUTHERFORD CO., Tenn. (WKRN) – Lawmakers in the Democratic and Legislative Black Caucuses are calling on Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery to investigate the conduct of Judge Donna Davenport. The Rutherford County Juvenile Judge is accused of jailing black elementary school students on a made-up law.

“What happened in the system that would allow a judge to have this much power, it goes unchecked for so long and destroy so many kids’ lives,” said Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville).

Dixie cited the Propublica and NPR report in the letter to Attorney General Slatery, saying Judge Davenport “routinely violated federal law in its detaining of minors.”

He added, “how children have been detained on made-up charges, held longer than they should have been, placed unnecessarily in solitary confinement and is run by a set of vague guidelines that have often been interpreted in an illegal and unconstitutional manner.“

“That should not be the norm, and that’s what worries me is that if you can make up a policy and that policy is a law without coming through the general assembly that’s a dangerous slippery slope that we do not want to start,” Dixie said.

Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron said he shares the concerns from the community:

“I share our community’s concerns over a news story that was recently released involving Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system. This is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit in federal court and, therefore, the County is very limited in what can be discussed.  With that said, changes to the system were put in place in 2017 to ensure that the County is strictly following required federal and state laws regarding arresting and detaining of juveniles.”

Governor Bill Lee declined to comment when asked Thursday during an unannounced appearance at a Senate Republican retreat.

“It’s one thing to go against policy, it’s another thing to break laws and then self admittedly tell you that they broke the laws and have no remorse for doing it, says that I broke it multiple times on many occasions and I don’t care what are you going to do to me,” Dixie said. “She’s daring the Attorney General, she’s daring the General Assembly to do our job.”

Among the allegations against Davenport are that she instituted a “filter system”— which allowed jail staff to determine when a child is released.

News 2 reached out to Slatery for a comment on the letter. The AG’s office issued the following statement late Thursday afternoon:

“We appreciate hearing from Rep. Dixie, we have received his letter, and will respond to him at the appropriate time.”

Because of pending litigation Judge Davenport says she cannot comment.

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