By Scott Broden, Murfreesboro Daily News Journal
Juvenile court judge Donna Scott Davenport, one of the last elected leaders still in office after being tied to Rutherford County’s decades-long history of illegally arresting and jailing children, announced Tuesday afternoon she won’t seek re-election later this year.
Davenport said she will retire after completing her eight-year term by Aug. 31.
The announcement came one day after Democratic Party lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly said they were seeking legislation to oust Davenport.
Kyle Mothershead, who represented plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit settled in December, said the county illegally arrested and incarcerated children before Davenport came to office in 2000. Still, he responded to Tuesday’s news with condemnation and relief.
“Good riddance,” Mothershead said.
Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said he learned Tuesday about Davenport’s decision to retire rather than seek re-election.
“Rutherford County expresses thanks to her for her service over the years and wishes her luck in her retirement,” Ketron said.
Davenport and the county’s juvenile detention center has faced national criticism for policies that led to multiple lawsuits and the illegal incarcerations of thousands of children on misdemeanor or made-up charges.
The policies led to children being handcuffed at school and jailed. Meanwhile, a filter system policy was created by Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Director Lynn Duke, who accepted her appointed position from Davenport.
The public learned of these polices after a 2016 fight in the neighborhood near Hobgood Elementary led to the arrests of 10 children. The fight was recorded on video and shared on social media. While Davenport dismissed charges involving the Hobgood arrests, she was still criticized for her role in creating a culture of illegal arrests and incarcerations.
“Yes, she is resigning,” said Jimmie Garland, vice president of the Tennessee conference of the NAACP. “But my question: Is she the only one that needs to resign, or the only one legislators need to run out of office? Because I’m quite sure there’s more than one person… caught up in that.
“I think they need to continue their research, continue their investigation, just to make sure everybody in that loop is actually out of a job.”
‘I don’t think she’d be re-elected anyway because all the stuff she did’
Among those incarcerated was Nicole Alexander’s 10-year-old son, who was arrested at home, accused of encouraging the fight.
Yet he was not present for the fight in question, according to a $15 million lawsuit filed last year against Davenport.
“I don’t think she’d be re-elected anyway because all the stuff she did,” Alexander said Tuesday, who contends the judge should face criminal charges.
Alexander’s cousin, Jackie Brinkley, also watched her twins, a boy and a girl, arrested at home. Her son spent the weekend at the juvenile detention center.
Brinkley said she’s glad the judge decided to retire and wished authorities dealt with her sooner.
“They should have removed her from being judge,” Brinkley said. “She’s very rude to the parents. She doesn’t have respect at all for the mothers.”
A class-action lawsuit was filed in July 2017.
“Tennessee law strictly prohibits the pretrial incarceration of children” unless the youth are “being charged with a violent felony, a weapons offense, or a probation violation,” according to the lawsuit.
Litigation led to a 2017 court order to stop the illegal incarcerations of children from U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr.
“The juveniles that are arrested in Rutherford County are being deprived of their procedural due process rights, which is unquestionably irreparable harm.” Crenshaw said in his ruling.
The class-action lawsuit settled in December for less than an estimated $6 million. The settlement includes awards to 394 filed claims for illegal incarceration and another 100 claims will be for illegal arrests, Mothershead said.
The settlement will pay about $4,800 per illegal incarceration and $1,000 per illegal arrest. The original plaintiffs will get more.
The number of plaintiffs with claims represented less than one-third of the estimated 1,450 people believed to be eligible and impacted in recent decades by the arrests and incarcerations.
Thousands of others were ineligible because of the statute of limitations.
Illegally jailing children: 5 things to know about Rutherford County’s troubled history of arresting and jailing kids