Charges dismissed in fake grave desecration case; District Attorney could face civil rights lawsuit

Posted at 4:52 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 21:31:03-05

DICKSON, Tenn. (WTVF) — A local man was charged with harassment after allegedly creating and sharing a fake image on social media. But since the arrest, not only has the charge been dropped, but the district attorney in the case could be facing a civil rights lawsuit.

Last month, Joshua Garton was accused of making and sharing a photo that upset a lot of people. It showed two men standing at what was made to look like a former officer's gravesite urinating on the headstone with a caption reading, "Just showing my respect to Deputy Daniel Baker from the #dicksonpolicedepartment." It gained the attention of law enforcement.

It was posted to a private page but then shared by others.

"I don't think it is in good taste what he did, but it's free speech," said attorney Jake Lockert.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was asked to look into it. Agents visited the gravesite and quickly determined the photograph was digitally manufactured. Baker's actual gravesite looks nothing like the one in the image.

Still, District Attorney General Ray Crouch had authorities investigate, locate, and then arrest Garton for harassment.

"He was retaliated against for expressing his political views," said Lockert, Garton's attorney, who filed a motion to dismiss the charges as a violation of his client's First Amendment right of free speech.

The General Sessions judge dismissed the charge finding no clear evidence of harassment. But the judge also ruled that Garton's post was not protected speech and that it didn't rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

The D.A. said he and the others all did their jobs. But, Lockert disagrees with the arrest and the ruling saying his client was locked up for more than a week on a misdemeanor charge with a $76,000 bond because authorities did not like what he posted.

"We are not communist China. You shouldn't be jerked off the street and put in jail for 10 days in Tennessee because you express your legitimate free speech."

The dismissal of the case may not be the end of this. Lockert says Garton may now file a lawsuit accusing the D.A. of violating his constitutional rights. Typically, in Tennessee, district attorneys have immunity from lawsuits so it's not clear this would stand up in court.

But there is a recent precedent. The details are different, but a judge did allow plaintiffs to sue the Rutherford County District Attorney in connection with Operation Candy Crush.