Lawmakers seek removal of judge who, for over a decade, illegally jailed Rutherford County children
‘Judge Davenport has violated State law and her oath of office,’ resolution says
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee General Assembly could remove a Rutherford County juvenile judge, who, for over a decade, has illegally jailed children, under legislation sponsored by Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) and Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville).
Sen. Campbell and Rep. Johnson are bringing the removal resolution just a month after a federal judge approved a settlement of about $6 million to the families of hundreds of young people who were illegally arrested and jailed by the Rutherford County juvenile justice system over a decade.
“While judges are given judicial discretion to interpret laws, they are not allowed to make up their own laws,” Sen. Campbell said. “The constitutional provision for removing judges in our state is an extreme remedy, but it exists for a reason. Arresting children, charging them with bogus crimes and illegally jailing them is an egregious abuse of power.”
The cause listed on the ouster resolution says the judge violated state law and her oath of office: “From at least 2008 until 2017, Judge Davenport oversaw an illegal detention policy that was in use in Rutherford County, resulting in the unlawful detention of children, some of whom had not even been alleged to have committed a delinquent or unruly act.”
If approved by the legislature, Senate Joint Resolution 788 would authorize the senate and house speakers to appoint a panel of 10 lawmakers to consider the case for removing Donna Scott Davenport from the office of Juvenile Court Judge of Rutherford County.
The joint committee would consider the cause outlined in the resolution and make a recommendation to the full General Assembly.
Donna Scott Davenport is the only juvenile court judge in Rutherford County’s history and has overseen the juvenile justice system since first winning election in 2000, according to reports from ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio.
“Judge Davenport said these elementary children needed consequences; where are the consequences for her illegal actions?” Rep. Johnson said. “Tennessee children and families deserve better than the trauma inflicted upon them by this dangerous judge.”
Rutherford County has also been jailing Black children at a disproportionately high rate and the racial disparity has gotten worse over time, according to reports.
“She has a staggering history of jailing children, and, in most instances, African American children,” said Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville), who recalled speaking out in 2016 against Judge Davenport for sanctioning the illegal arrest of children at Hobgood Elementary School.
“We have seen the rate of locking up juveniles going down in every state and in Tennessee — with the exception of Rutherford County,” Sen. Gilmore said. “Again, it’s time for us to take action and have this judge removed.”