Tennessee Judge Who Jailed Black Kids at Inordinately High Rate Announces She Will Not Seek Re-Election Hours After Lawmakers Call for Her Impeachment

A Tennessee juvenile court judge who has been criticized for her practice of having minors arrested has announced she is retiring this fall. The news comes a day after legislators called for her impeachment.

According to the Insider, Judge Donna Scott Davenport, who has served Rutherford County’s juvenile court in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, since 2000, has announced that she will not seek re-election in September. 

Rutherford County, Tennessee Judge

In a statement sent out by the county’s spokesperson, Davenport said, “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.”

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

An hour before her announcement, ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio reported that some lawmakers have introduced a resolution in the Tennessee General Assembly calling for the removal of Davenport from her post. 

The bill was prompted by an exposé published in October that detailed how the judge has a “staggering history of jailing children,” with her office going as far as having Black children arrested for crimes that didn’t exist.

According to the research made available to the outlets, out of 98 other county courts, Rutherford County locked up 48 percent of the juveniles in cases brought before the judge in 2014, the last year the records were made public. The state juvenile lock-up rate is an average of 5 percent.

In 2016, Davenport saw a case that involved 11 Black students from Hobgood Elementary School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who were arrested for simply watching two small boys (one 5 years old and the other 6) fight off school grounds.

The children who were arrested were charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another” because they did not stop the kindergarteners from tussling. There is no law on the books that said the kids had to interfere or break up the fight. Thus, the young people were arrested for a crime that did not exist — and some of them were even locked in jail for this imaginary crime.

The charges were dropped against all 11 of the students and the parents filed a class-action lawsuit against Rutherford County for their children being illegally detained.

The attorneys stated that Davenport, directly, has been responsible for two policies that have incarcerated many of the town’s children.

One of the two is an aggressive program that dates back to a memo she drafted in 2003 called “Always Arrest.” The memo was interpreted by law enforcement officials to mean that all children charged with any juvenile offense must be physically arrested and taken to the county’s detention center, even if state law mandated that the child be released with a summons or citation.

The second policy is called the “filter system.” This system allows staff members to decide if a child should be kept based on if they believed the child was a “true threat.”

After receiving information like this class-action filing and other reports, local Democrats have led lawmakers to gauge an impeachment process for Davenport in effort to protect the children from her excessive criminalization.

A joint resolution filed by Nashville Senator Heidi Campbell and Rep. Johnson, obtained by the Atlanta Black Star, reads in part:

“Judge Davenport has violated State law and her oath of office, the General Assembly finds it necessary to commence proceedings for the removal of Donna Scott Davenport from office as Juvenile Court Judge for the following cause: 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.”

Local news station WATE interviewed several lawmakers speaking out about why Davenport needs to be impeached.

Nashville Sen. Brenda Gilmore said, “I think it’s time for us to take action and have this judge removed.” 

Knoxville Rep. Gloria Johnson echoed her remarks, saying, “I believe we don’t need to see her running in another election — children are at stake.”

The call for impeachment is unusual. Rarely has a sitting judge in Tennessee been removed, however, so is the abuse of power yielded by Davenport — an abuse that lawmakers have called “illegal.”

Johnson adds for those stuck on how radical impeachment might seem, “It’s important to remember that those charges were made up that she took those kids from that school, cuffed them, and locked them up.”

A judicial review is considering the complaint filed against Davenport. Davenport has not released a statement about the resolution.

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