Officials placed the juveniles in jail for not breaking up fights at school. Most of the kids were Black and as young as 6. (Photo Credit: Screenshots by ProPublica)
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent @StacyBrownMedia
It doesn’t get any more racist and heartless than this.
Commissioners – one of whom worked in a post office, and none of whom have law degrees or experience – created “laws” in Rutherford County, Tenn., which resulted in the illegal arrest and jailing of juveniles for decades.
Officials placed the juveniles in jail for not breaking up fights at school. Most of the kids were Black and as young as 6.
In September, the county agreed to pay $11 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of the juveniles.
According to local reports, the final amount the county will pay depends on the number of valid claims made.
Those who qualify could receive nearly $5,000 for each incident of illegal detainment.
A stunning exposé by Pro Publica titled “Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge” revealed that Judge Donna Scott Davenport oversees a juvenile justice system with a staggering history of jailing children.
“She said kids must face consequences, which rarely seem to apply to her or other adults in charge,” Pro Publica authors wrote.
After years of investigation, the authors discovered that the judge had been directing police on what she called “our process” for arresting children.
She appointed the jailer, who employed a “filter system” to determine which children to hold.
“The judge was proud of what she had helped build, despite some alarming numbers buried in state reports,” the authors wrote.
Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5 percent. In Rutherford County, it was 48 percent.
In one of the many instances cited, Officer Chris Williams stood in the assistant principal’s office at Hobgood Elementary School.
The writers noted the following:
“Williams, who is Black, had been a Murfreesboro cop for five years. ‘What in the world?’ he thought when he learned the basis for the arrests.
At Hobgood, two-thirds of the students were Black or Latino.
“Williams wondered if such arrests would occur at a primarily white school. He had a daughter who was 9. He pictured her being arrested. ‘This is going to blow up,’ he thought; ‘I’m going to end up in federal court over this.’ He considered quitting but instead tried to get someone to intervene. Tucked in an office corner, he called a sergeant, a lieutenant, and a major but couldn’t find anyone to call it off.
“The officer not saying anything was Albert Miles III. Growing up, Miles, who is Black, had friends who hated the police. But Miles’ dad was a cop. “So, miles wanted to prove that police could be trusted. That afternoon, Miles had been pulled out of roll call, and another officer, a sergeant, told the two to arrest some kids at Hobgood. The sergeant didn’t say why, but at Hobgood, Miles started picking up details. Miles, too, wondered if these arrests would happen at a school full of white students.
“The third officer at Hobgood was Jeff Carroll. He’d been pulled out of roll call with Miles. Carroll, who is white, was a patrol officer and SWAT team member. In evaluations, supervisors praised him as a leader, “cool under pressure.”
Carroll also had no idea of the nature of the arrests.
But his sergeant had ordered them, and he followed orders. Carroll was the officer telling the principal: Go get the kids.”
“In Rutherford, the commissioners wield great legal power,” wrote journalist Ken Armstrong. “One commissioner, who used to work in a post office, came up with the charge of ‘criminal responsibility for conduct of another.’”
The problem, Armstrong noted, “there’s no such charge.”
“These kids were charged with a crime that doesn’t exist,” he continued.
He noted that the county’s illegal jailing of kids halted only when a federal judge ordered an end to their filter system. However, Rutherford County continues to jail kids, Armstrong found.
“When forced to stop jailing so many of its own children, Rutherford County ramped up its pitch to detain kids from other places,” he discovered.
The county charges $175 a day for each kid they jail, one of the motivators for such ill conduct.
He noted further that a promotional video, narrated by Judge Davenport over saxophone music and B-roll of children in Black-and-white striped uniforms, plays on YouTube.
It’s heartlessly and nauseatingly titled, “What Can the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Do For You?”
“To report this story, we filed 56 public records requests, got 38 hours of audiotaped interviews from an internal police investigation, and watched more than 100 public meetings spanning 12 years,” Armstrong wrote on Twitter.
According to court records, approximately 1,400 mostly-minority juveniles could reap benefits from the September settlement under the agreement. Attorneys representing the juveniles encouraged people who think they might qualify to contact email@example.com.
Nashville attorney Kyle Mothershead, who was on the legal team representing the juveniles, reportedly decried “Rutherford County’s illegal mass juvenile incarceration regime” in a statement.
Mothershead, who handled the case alongside Mark Downton and Frank Brazil, said the settlement would provide “meaningful financial accountability” for the government and “a modicum of justice” for the juveniles trapped by the policy.
“White students Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime Tha