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E.J. v. Templeton

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 18, 2017

E.J., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRYSTAL TEMPLETON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Minor children E.J., A.B., J.B. #1, J.B. #2, and K.W. filed this action with their guardians Elexecia Martin, Sandra Brien, Jacqueline Brinkley, and Kanisa Davis against Murfreesboro Police Officer Chrystal Templeton, Rutherford County, Tennessee, and the City of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, after agents of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro arrested the minor children and delivered them to the Juvenile Detention Center, a “secure” facility. (Doc. No. 32.) Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary Injunction against Rutherford County to stop the arrest and incarceration of juveniles.[1] (Doc. No. 21.) On April 11, 2017, the Court held a hearing and heard evidence on Plaintiffs' motion. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion (Doc. No. 21) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         This case arises after officers of the Murfreesboro Police Department and the Rutherford County Sherriff's Department arrested all five juvenile plaintiffs.[2] Relevant to the instant motion, deputies from the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office arrested K.W. and A.B. pursuant to its “Always Arrest” policy. After K.W.'s, A.B.'s, and the other juveniles' arrests, the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center used its “Filter System” to determine whether all five juvenile plaintiffs would be detained or released pending a detention hearing by the Juvenile Court Judge. Plaintiffs contend both of these policies violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         In finding these facts the Court relies on the Verified Second Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 123), all properly-sworn affidavits, the verified juvenile court records, as well as the testimony at the preliminary injunction hearing from Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Davenport, Murfreesboro Police Department Chief James Karl Durr, Rutherford County Deputy Sheriff Kerry Nelson, Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Chief Rebecca Baskette, and Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Director Lynn Duke.

         A. Always Arrest

         The “Always Arrest” policy, as explained by Nelson, is fairly simple. A Deputy Sheriff goes to a Judicial Commissioner and explains why there is probable cause that the juvenile committed a delinquent act. If the Judicial Commissioner makes a probable cause finding, she issues a summons, which is at the bottom of the Petition. (E.g., Doc. No. 114-1 at 3; Doc. No. 114-3 at 15 (juvenile delinquency petitions)). After obtaining a “Summons, ” the Deputy Sheriff must arrest the juvenile and transport the juvenile to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center, a secure facility. The juvenile is taken into custody, in the same way as an adult, whenever a “summons” is issued if it is based on an alleged misdemeanor or felony, or even if it is for a “status” offense. This policy remains in effect. (Ex. 5.)

         The origin of this policy appears to be a 2003 Memorandum and accompanying Order by Juvenile Court Judge Donna Davenport. In the Memorandum, Judge Davenport explained: “Attached is a new Order passed down by the Court for procedure IN ARREST of any JUVENILE.” (Ex. 9. (emphasis in original)). The Order, as amended on February 14, 2003, stated that “upon the arrest of any juvenile, the arresting officer shall transport the child to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility . . . .” (Id.) She reaffirmed this Order multiple times, most recently on February 7, 2010. (Ex. 11-12.) While Judge Davenport testified that she did not intend to convey that she preferred that officers arrest a child on every summons issued pursuant to a juvenile petition, Nelson testified that the Sheriff's Department interpreted this Order as requiring the arrest of juveniles after approval of any petition.

         Both Judge Davenport and Murfreesboro Police Department Chief James Durr agreed that Rutherford County's “Always Arrest” policy is not required under Tennessee law. Nelson concurred that the official policy of the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office states that the “only way the juvenile will be taken into custody is if there is language on the petition that says pick up and hold, no other verbiage is acceptable.” (Ex. 3 at 65 (the Sheriff's Office's official policy)). However, Nelson stated that the way the policy is enforced is to always arrest a juvenile after a Judicial Commissioner approves a juvenile delinquency petition and issues the summons.

         B. Filter System

         After a juvenile is arrested, transported to the Juvenile Detention Center, and booked or processed, Rutherford County employs the “Filter System” to determine whether to detain the juvenile for up to 72 hours (longer if a weekend is involved) pending a detention hearing before the Juvenile Court Judge.[3] The intake officer uses the “Filter System” to determine whether to detain a juvenile on a status charge-a charge that only a juvenile can commit, such as a curfew violation-or on a delinquent charge-a charge similar to a “crime” when committed by adults. Captain Rebecca Baskette of the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center, who trains the intake officers, explained the operation of the “Filter System.”

         The Filter System is used for all juveniles brought to the Detention Center to determine whether to detain them prior to the Juvenile Court Judge's required detention hearing. When a juvenile is arrested on a status offense, the “Filter System” requires an intake officer to detain three categories of juveniles. The officer must detain an “unruly” juvenile who is a “TRUE threat to themselves or the community.” (Ex. 6 (emphasis in original)). The officer is also required to detain a juvenile that ran away from home for multiple days and is “deemed a TRUE threat to themselves or the community.” (Id. (emphasis in original)). Last, the officer shall detain a juvenile if the juvenile has a probation violation or capias that “goes back” to a status charge. (Id.) The intake officer also has discretion to detain a juvenile if a juvenile violated a valid court order. Baskette testified that, regardless of the “Filter System's” language, the intake officer is never required to detain a juvenile, and the most important factor for an intake officer to consider in each of these circumstances is whether the juvenile is a “TRUE” threat to themselves or the community.

         On a delinquent offense, the “Filter System” requires an intake officer to detain a juvenile if the juvenile is currently on pretrial diversion, under a court order, on conditional release, or on probation. (Id.) If a juvenile commits certain offenses, such as driving under the influence or reckless burning, the “Filter System” also requires the intake officer to detain the juvenile. On any other delinquent charge, the intake officer has discretion to detain the juvenile if the law enforcement officer that presented the delinquency petition “feels that the juvenile is a TRUE risk to the community or themselves.” (Id. (emphasis in original)). Baskette testified that in any of these situations, intake officers may use their discretion to determine if the juvenile is a “TRUE” threat to themselves or the community. The “Filter System” is included in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Standard Operating Procedures as a “quick reference” as to whether an officer shall detain or release a juvenile. (Ex. 7 at 57, 60-61.)

         C. K.W.'s, A.B.'s, and J.B. #2's Cases

         On May 6, 2014, Rutherford County Deputy Sheriff Roscoe Sanders witnessed a video of a fight in which K.W. participated. (Doc. No. 123 at 19.) Based solely on this video, Sanders presented a delinquency petition to the Judicial Commissioner against K.W. for misdemeanor assault. (Id.) The Judicial Commissioner issued a summons for K.W. to appear in Juvenile Court on these charges on August 11, 2014, at the Rutherford County Juvenile Services Center. (Id. at 20.) Rather than serving this summons on K.W. and allowing him to appear on his own, and pursuant to the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department's “Always Arrest” policy, Sanders served the summons by arresting K.W. at Oakland High School on May 6, 2014. (Id.)

         On September 19, 2014, Rutherford County Deputy Sheriff Christopher Erwin swore out a juvenile delinquency petition against A.B. for two counts of assault, vandalism under $500, and stalking. (Doc. Nos. 114-1 at 2; 114-5 at 1.) Based on the petition, the Judicial Commissioner issued a summons for A.B. to appear in court that same day. (Doc. No. 114-1 at 3.) Will Lehew served the petition by arresting A.B. on September 20, 2014, and transporting her to the Juvenile Detention Center. (Id.)

         On April 15, 2016, Murfreesboro Police Department Officer Chrystal Templeton obtained a juvenile delinquency petition for J.B. #2. (Doc. No. 123 at 16-17.) Based on the summons issued pursuant to the petition, Officer Templeton arrested J.B. #2 at his house on April 16, 2016. (Id. at 17.)

         Based on Baskette's generalized testimony, the intake officer chose to detain K.W., A.B., and K.B. #2 based on the “Filter System.” (See id. (“Once he was transported to RCJDC, KW was incarcerated pursuant to the ‘Filter System' policy of RCJDC prior to a probable cause hearing.”). The intake officers' specific reasons for detaining any of the three juveniles is not in this record, but the intake officer, it appears, also moved K.W.'s detention hearing from August 11 to May 7, 2014. (See Doc. No. 114-3 at 15 (scratching out the August 11 date and putting in its place ...


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