CLARKSVILLE, TN – David and Michelle Tolley married in 2015, they had two children: Joseph, and Faith, now age 4. David adopted Michele’s son William, now 12. David had another son, Silas, now 9, who never got along with Michele. The couple separated in November 2017 and divorced in March 2020.
David said he left the marriage because Michelle hurt the kids. She said she left the marriage because David was not a good husband or a good father.
Their son Joseph died in 2016 when he was four months old. Michelle put him down on the floor, covered him with a blanket, and he threw up and choked to death on his own vomit. Five years later, David still grieves for Joseph and has never forgiven Michelle for Joseph’s death.
“When we were married he drank so much he didn’t even tend to the kids. And now, all of a sudden, he tries to play Father-of-the-Year… he acts like he’s so involved but it’s all about control,” Michelle said.
“The marriage failed because my wife was constantly abusive to my children and the system won’t believe a father over a mother,” David said.
In November 2017, Michelle pleaded guilty to two counts of felony child abuse for beating Silas with a belt and lying about taking Faith to the doctor when she was sick. She received probation for two years. Stewart County Juvenile Judge Andy Brigham gave David custody; Michele had unsupervised visitation.
Michelle told a Stuart County detective that it was David who beat the children. David said the detective never interviewed him. When there is an allegation of severe physical abuse, DCS immediately investigates. Based on Michelle’s allegation, DCS removed the children and put them in foster care with David’s mother, who lived next door.
For seven months, David saw the kids an hour a day. Juvenile Court judge Andy Brigham restored David’s custody and closed the case in May 2018 because there was no evidence to substantiate Michelle’s claim.
The couple resumed equal time parenting time. A month later Michelle texted David and told him she had spanked Silas. David wouldn’t let Michelle get the kids after that. He said he was afraid what would happen if he did.
Michelle went to Montgomery County District Judge Ted Crozier who ordered David to give Michelle visitation or be held in contempt of court. David said he complied. Michelle disputes that. She said she has filed three contempt petitions against David for not making exchanges with the children.
“I told her that if you’re not going to take care of the kids and they are going to get hurt and injured, I am not going to bow down and just ignore it,“ David said.
In August 2019 Michelle called 911 to report that Silas had raped Faith. Case manager Melanie Campbell told Michelle to take Faith for a forensic medical exam. They found no signs of sexual abuse.
Nevertheless, Campbell had David agree to a list of house rules—no males would be in the same room with Faith, or wear shorts, or go bare chested. But the alleged sexual assault happened at Michelle’s house. Michelle said Campbell inspected her house, found nothing amiss, and did not require her to adhere to a list of rules.
Two months later on November 13, 2019 Michelle returned Faith to David. She was burning up with fever. “She was in Michelle’s care. I got her back and took her straight to the emergency room.”
Faith was admitted to Tennova Hospital overnight. Clarksville PD made a referral and David reported it to DCS, too. Records show Team Leader Sabrina Sanford and Case Manager Melanie Campbell visited the child and family and they closed the case the same day.
A year later, Campbell testified at the Tolleys’ final divorce hearing. “She’s a good mother,” Campbell told Judge Crozier. He ordered a 50-50 parenting plan.
By this time, the kids had seen their baby brother die, they had endured beatings, they had seen their baby sister rushed to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital with an ear infection so bad it almost killed her. They watched Silas get placed at Heritage House, where, according to David, he will probably stay until he goes into juvenile detention because he sets fires, displays inappropriate sexual behavior, and has frequent uncontrolled rages. He is 9 years old.
David and Michelle can’t stop fighting with each other. They say it’s because they have to protect the children. But in their ongoing war for custody, the kids have become collateral damage.
But that’s not how David sees it. He’s been documenting conversations, taken video and photos of bruises on the children, copied pages of texts between himself and Michelle hoping to gather enough evidence to show that Michelle is the abuser and a manipulative liar. But he said nobody in the Clarksville DCS office wanted to hear it.
David is the villain in Michelle’s story. “It’s nonstop DCS calling and nonstop referrals. I’m so tired of living in fear because of this guy. It’s unreal. I don’t understand why we can’t co-parent. It’s all about control though. This is how’s he’s been the whole time I was married to him. I had to get away,” she said.
There have been periods of peace and the children were much happier then. But they never lasted long. “With David it’s all about control and being the better parent. After a while he starts badmouthing me to my children and it leads to the point that it’s my job to protect them.”
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
“We went through nine case workers. Sometimes it would change every two weeks,“ David said. He was frustrated because he’d have to “go through it all again” with a new case manager who didn’t know anything about the case. They invariably told him everything would get investigated and things would be different. But they weren’t. Things got worse.
“They didn’t listen to anything I had to say. They didn’t look at any of the pictures or recordings or anything. As soon as she (Michelle) did her ‘boo-hoo’ victim story, they were all about her,” he said.
When parents lie to get their Ex in trouble, and when they coach the children to lie for them, the police, DCS, and the courts have to sort through it all to decide who’s telling the truth and who’s lying.
When a serious allegation is made, DCS will preempt the investigation by removing the children or changing custody arrangements through the courts until the matter is resolved. That can take months. Michelle got custody after she reported on May 19, 2019 that David molested Faith. The accusation was later found to be groundless.
Here’s how that happened: in May 2020 a therapist made a referral to DCS that William, age 10, may have molested Faith.
DCS Investigations Supervisor Karmen Davis immediately conducted an interview in David’s house on May 15, 2020. She was accompanied by Case Manager Erica Hicks-Prince. Davis asked Faith about William but, according to David, she answered about Michelle. Faith held her hands in front of herself and said that Michelle had done things to her private area. Davis took no action.
Four days later on May 19, 2020 Michele claimed David sexually molested Faith.
She filed a report with the Clarksville DCS office. Karmen Davis took Faith for a forensic interview on May 20. Michelle brought Faith to the interview. Walking into the building Faith said “Daddy touches my pee pee.” Davis acted this time.
“They stripped custody of my kids from me and gave them to Michelle,” David said.
A DCS White Knight
But in three subsequent forensic interviews Faith never mentioned David molesting her. Case Manager Blossom Ferrao suspected Michelle had coached Faith to accuse David.
During the time Michelle had custody from May 2020-Nov.2020 David saw Faith in a supervised setting for one hour a week. He noticed that Faith had bruises on her legs and red marks on her arms and feet. He took photos and sent them to Case Manager Akendra Patterson. She did not open an investigation.
In November Ferrao conferred with Carmen Davis who acknowledged that Faith had accused Michelle, not William, in the May 15 interview. Ferrao reasoned that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If David lost custody over Michelle’s allegation she shouldn’t get custody when Faith had accused her of the same thing.
But there was also William who claimed David showed him porn on his cell phone. David said Michelle got William to say that because it never happened. Barnes put the children into foster care from November 2020 to May 2021. By then, DCS had concluded Michelle’s allegations against David were false and Barnes restored equal parenting time.
During the last two years Michelle and David have accused each other of abusing the children. They have each claimed the other parent lied to get them into trouble. Michelle reported Silas had sexually abused Faith. And a therapist reported that William may have molested Faith.
The war between David and Michelle has resulted in DCS taking the kids away from both parents twice. And DCS took the kids away from David and gave them to Michelle once. The brinkmanship between the parents played out in two different courtrooms.
David had a restraining order placed on him in District Court for allegations Michelle made in Juvenile Court which DCS later determined to be false. District Court Judge Ted Crozier granted the restraining order in May 2020. But Judge Barnes ordered the resumption of equal parenting time in May 2021.
Judge Crozier didn’t vacate his restraining order until last week. So for three months David was in contempt of Crozier’s order. Neither side told Crozier that they had agreed to ignore it because of Judge Barnes’ order. However, the same day Crozier removed the restraining order on David, Michelle filed for another one and asked for full custody.
Crozier did not grant a new order and set a January 4, 2022 court date to permanently reinstate the parenting plan.
DCS is run by women. Of its 3227 employees, 2720 are female. When serious allegations are made, DCS sends a lawyer to court to protect the children. Mothers can easily manipulate the system and it has a short memory. All you have to do is make outrageous accusations against Dad. Even if they are later proven false, as in David Tolley’s case, nothing is likely to happen to you. In the meantime, you get the kids and can do whatever you want with them.
While courts tend to drag out proceedings for months, DCS investigators are supposed to close out cases within 60 days. Once a case is closed, it’s in the past and the next time a case is opened, the case manager will likely be someone the family doesn’t know and who doesn’t know the family history.
DCSs investigators don’t generally testify in court trials. They confer with the DCS attorney who speaks to the judge. Sometimes the lawyer ignores what case managers tell them; sometimes they simply don’t know things.
David had passed a four-hour psycho-sexual evaluation which concluded he was not a threat to Faith and the case manager knew that. But the DCS attorney asked for a 45-day delay because she didn’t have a copy of the results.
Lawyers benefit from all the bad communication, drama, and distress in an extended custody battle. Michelle said she has been in court five times this year. David said he spent $27,000 on lawyers in the last three years. Perhaps DCS should start filing charges against lying parents and let a judge or jury decide if they committed perjury. A criminal charge carries real jail time.