A new lawsuit out of Cocke County, Tennessee claims that a bailiff in a court room smacked a 14-year-old boy for mouthing off to a judge.
The boy’s mother, Christi Williford, claims in her lawsuit that the bailiff "crossed the courtroom and struck D.W. [her son] in the face. The blow to the face was loud enough to be heard throughout the courtroom and left a red mark on D.W.'s face."
Williford admits that D.W. made a disrespectful comment to the judge prior to being slapped, but says her son’s words are no excuse for a court official to hit him.
D.W. was in court that day on an underage drinking charge. Williford’s lawsuit goes into detail about the events that transpired prior to the slap.
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"After Judge Bell repeatedly badgered and threatened D.W. with contempt if he did not reveal the provider of the alcohol, D.W. made a disrespectful comment to the judge,” the lawsuit claims. "Upon hearing D.W.'s comment, defendant Jim Huskey ('Bailiff Huskey') crossed the courtroom and struck D.W. in the face. The blow to the face was loud enough to be heard throughout the courtroom and left a red mark on D.W.'s face. At no time before Bailiff Huskey struck D.W. was D.W. violent or did he pose a threat to anyone. There was no need for any use of force by Bailiff Huskey."
After being slapped, presiding Judge John A. Bell ordered D.W. removed from the court room. The lawsuit claims that four sheriff’s deputies restrained the boy and wrestled him to the ground. The next day, Williford learned that not only was Bailiff Huskey not being punished for slapping D.W., but D.W. was being charged with assaulting the deputies who removed him from the room.
Several other public defenders who were present on the day D.W. was slapped have joined Williford in her lawsuit. One of the attorneys said that outside of the courthouse, the group of sheriff’s deputies was “chuckling and laughing at sticking it on this poor kid.”
This is far from the first allegation of corruption in Cocke County courts. The FBI has investigated the local sheriff’s department several times in recent years, and deputies have been found guilty of stealing and drug dealing. Judge Bell was found to have contracted his brother-in-law’s business to provide services, supervision and mandatory drug testing to parolees, and personally profiting off of those services. It was also discovered that Bell has used attorney friends in the past to pressure citizens into making certain plea’s in court.
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The lawsuit claims the Cocke County Sheriff’s department has “maintained a policy or practice of encouraging the use of needless force to intimidate citizens.” Williford’s lawsuit is seeking $250,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.