In a joint investigation between NPR and ProPublica, the news organizations found that Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott Davenport was jailing minority children illegally, and yet she is still allowed to sit on the bench in Rutherford County, Tenn..
In 206, she ordered 11 children to be arrested for not breaking up a fight which is not even a crime. The youngest child was nine years old. Some say she is a racist and I can’t argue with them in this case.
On the order of Davenport, police officers cuffed and dragged four girls away from their school while they screamed, cried, and at least one of them vomited. Their parents weren’t notified until after the traumatic event.
What happened on that Friday and in the days after, when police rounded up even more kids, would expose an ugly and unsettling culture in Rutherford County, one spanning decades. In the wake of these mass arrests, lawyers would see inside a secretive legal system that’s supposed to protect kids, but in this county did the opposite. Officials flouted the law by wrongfully arresting and jailing children. One of their worst practices was stopped following the events at Hobgood, but the conditions that allowed the lawlessness remain. The adults in charge failed. Yet they’re still in charge. Tennessee’s systems for protecting children failed. Yet they haven’t been fixed.
Eleven children in all were arrested over the video, including the 8-year-old taken in by mistake. Media picked up the story. Parents and community leaders condemned the actions of police. “Unimaginable, unfathomable,” a Nashville pastor said. “Unconscionable,” “inexcusable,” “insane,” three state legislators said.
The position of the juvenile judge was established in 2000 and is decided in an election. Davenport has been the only one who has held the position.
Davenport runs the entire juvenile system, including appointing magistrates, setting rules, and presiding over cases. Davenport is not even a very bright lawyer. She did not pass the bar exam until her fifth try.
Juveniles who are arrested for such minor crimes as truancy are to face a judge within 24 hours and the released no more than a day later.
Davenport has admitted to violating the law by holding the children for up to 10 days. She did this if the child cursed at her even though it is not a crime and she even admitted as much when asked.
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In one case, Davenport actually disobeyed two appeals court rulings and terminated a mother’s parental rights without authority, blatantly disobeying the higher courts:
Davenport, finding that a mother had neglected her daughter, granted custody to another couple. Two higher courts disagreed and ordered Davenport to reunify the mother and child. Instead, Davenport terminated the mother’s parental rights. The other couple then adopted the girl, after being “exhorted” by Davenport to move quickly, according to a state Court of Appeals opinion.
The adoption went through while a challenge to Davenport’s parental termination ruling was still pending. In the second go-round, a state appeals court judge made clear his displeasure, saying, during oral argument, “Our little system works pretty simply”: If a higher court tells a lower court to do something, the lower court does it. “That didn’t happen in this case,” he said. Two months later, the appeals court overruled Davenport for a second time. Saying it was “troubled by the proceedings to this point,” the court ordered Davenport to reunite the mother and child — “expeditiously.”