Rutherford County settles kids-in-jail class action for $6M

Dec 21, 2021 at 09:46 am by Michelle Willard

A Gavel

More than 2,000 children have avoided jail since an injunction was filed preventing Rutherford County Juvenile Judge Donna Scott Davenport from locking up children, an attorney with a class action suit against the county said.

U.S. Federal Judge Waverly Crenshaw Jr. accepted a settlement Monday afternoon, Dec. 20, ending a class action suit against Rutherford County for "citizens taken into custody and/or detained by the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center on or after Oct. 14, 2015."

The case initially asked for an $11 million settlement for it's nearly 400 claimants. It was settled for $6 million for 394 claimants, according to an article in the Daily News Journal. If you have a subscription to the DNJ, you can read the story here.

"It means that several hundred children are gonna get real money, real compensation for having been illegally incarcerated or arrested by Rutherford County. It's certainly nothing that has happened before, certainly not in Tennessee, a class action of this type," Kyle Mothershead said in a video following the decision.

Aside from the monetary settlement, Mothershead said the suit prevented more than 2,000 children from being jailed over the course of the five-year case.

"It was almost a 1,000 a year that was cut down to like 150, 100 a year ... as soon as Judge Crenshaw issued the injunction in 2017," he said.

The suit is related to, but not a result of, an investigative story by WPLN and ProPublica that explored incarceration rates of juveniles in Rutherford County.

According to the article, Davenport jailed kids in 48% of the cases in Rutherford County Juvenile Court in 2014. The statewide average for that year was 5%. Davenport, who was elected in 2000 to the bench, calls herself the “mother of the county.” 

But then the injunction greatly reduced the incarceration rate. Children were commonly jailed for a week or more following school fights and other misdemeanor charges, Mothershead said. 

Sections: Crime & Safety