Tennessee judge accused of illegally jailing children announces retirement

Rutherford County Judge Donna Scott Davenport announces plan to stand down one day after lawmakers move to impeach her for illegally jailing children

Rachel Sharp
Thursday 20 January 2022 21:39
<p>Rutherford County Judge Donna Scott Davenport</p>

Rutherford County Judge Donna Scott Davenport

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A judge in Tennessee has announced her sudden retirement after being accused of illegally arresting and jailing more than a thousand children – even in cases where no crime was committed.

Judge Donna Scott Davenport, who has served in Rutherford County’s juvenile court since 2000, announced in a statement on Tuesday that she will step down rather than seek reelection when her current eight-year term ends in September.

The judge made no mention of the controversies swirling around her and instead claimed the court had “positively affected the lives of young people and families in Rutherford County” during her two-decade tenure.

“After prayerful thought and talking with my family, I have decided not to run for re-election after serving more than twenty-two years on the bench,” she said in the statement.

“I will always look back at my time as Judge as one of the greatest honors of my life and I am so proud of what this Court has accomplished in the last two decades and how it has positively affected the lives of young people and families in Rutherford County.

“I wish my successor the best and hope that this job provides them the same fulfillment it has provided me over the years.”

Judge Davenport’s announcement is a marked turnaround as she had been seeking reelection.

Her sudden change of heart came just one day after state lawmakers filed a joint resolution to impeach the judge and remove her from the bench over allegations she illegally jailed children.

A bombshell investigation by ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio, released in October, found that the judge introduced an “always arrest” policy within the county’s juvenile justice system, where children were routinely arrested and jailed in juvenile detention center.

Once there, Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Director Lynn Duke introduced a “filter system” to determine which children should continue to be detained in the detention center before the youths then appeared before Judge Davenport.

The judge, who is the only juvenile judge in the county, had also appointed the director to that position.

The ProPublica probe found that, under her watch, children were jailed in 48 per cent of all cases referred to juvenile court in Rutherford County.

By contrast, across the state of Tennessee, children were jailed in just 5 per cent of cases.

Many of the children impacted were also Black and, in many cases, no crime had been committed, the investigation found.

In December, a lawsuit brought by children incarcerated under the judge’s system was settled for around $6m.

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