The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Rutherford County, Tenn., and its horrific juvenile judge

ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio dropped a bombshell description about how Rutherford County, Tenn., treats its Black children. That the main perpetrators of the violence against children under color of law appear to have a Christianist view of the world does not surprise me in the least:

In Rutherford County, a juvenile court judge had been directing police on what she called “our process” for arresting children, and 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.

Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%.

In Rutherford County, it was 48%.

When [judicial commissioner Sherry] Hamlett came up with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another” as a possible charge, there was a problem. It’s not an actual charge. There is no such crime. It is rather a basis upon which someone can be accused of a crime. For example, a person who caused someone else to commit robbery would be charged with robbery, not “criminal responsibility.”

But in the judicial commissioners’ office that Friday afternoon, 10 petitions were issued, each charging a child with “criminal responsibility.” The petitions didn’t distinguish the kids’ actions; the documents were cookie-cutter, saying each child “encouraged and caused” two other juveniles to commit an assault.

[One child's] lawyers wanted to know: How many kids were there who, like E.J., had been improperly arrested? How many kids had, like Jacorious Brinkley, been improperly jailed? The lawyers gathered large samples of arrest and detention records from an 11-year period, ending in December 2017. Then they extrapolated.

They would eventually estimate that kids had been wrongly arrested 500 times. And that was just for kids arrested by the sheriff’s office. This estimate didn’t account for other law enforcement agencies in the county that followed Davenport’s “process.” As for how many times the juvenile detention center had improperly locked up kids through its “filter system,” the lawyers estimated that number at 1,500.

Awful people like Davenport and a few others named in the story continue to exercise their power because the people who could stop them—the voters—don't care. I have no good explanation for how these people became so awful, but I suspect that narcissism plus religious belief had something to do with it.

Federal class-action lawsuits related to these matters have cost Rutherford County tens of millions of dollars. And yet the good people of the County can't seem to vote Davenport out of office. Would the good people of Chicago vote a similarly awful judge out? I don't know. But I'd hope that we would.

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