MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — A controversial judge out of Rutherford County is seeking reelection, but state legislators said she’s not fit to serve.
State Sen. Heidi Campbell and State Rep. Gloria Johnson recently filed a joint resolution to remove juvenile court Judge Donna Scott Davenport from the bench.
They said she was responsible for the “filter” system, “where Black children have been repeatably and illegally arrested and incarcerated. Some as young as 8 years old,” Campbell said.
The most drastic example takes us back to 2016 when Davenport approved Murfreesboro Police to detain 10 children for watching a fight not far from Hobgood Elementary School.
Critics were quick to call out the judge after officers pulled students from class and placed some in handcuffs before transporting them to the detention center.
NewsChannel 5 learned that for years, Davenport gave jailers the discretion to keep kids locked up who they perceived as a threat. Children were forced to wait in detention until their day in court and sometimes it meant staying days behind bars before being formally charged with a crime.
Some legislators said this was part of a more systemic issue but claim Davenport should still share the responsibility.
Johnson was also critical of the state’s Department of Children Services for not taking action sooner. She said the department should have been aware that children were unlawfully locked up for days at a time. Johnson acknowledged that caseworkers may have had their hands full with double or even triple the recommended caseload, but said it’s no excuse for not finding one negative remark against the detention facility in years.
“Tennessee children and their families deserve better than the trauma inflicted on them by this dangerous judge,” Johnson said.
Reporters asked lawmakers why it took so long for them to come forward with a plan to remove the judge. Campbell called it a lengthy process to go from complaint to action, especially for something as serious as unseating an elected judge.
She said they’ve already spoken with state leaders about their intentions, but they feel confident they will have support after Gov. Bill Lee announced he too wants an investigation into the Rutherford County juvenile justice system.
The most recent data NewsChannel 5 has shown that at its height, jailers locked up kids nearly 10 times more than the state average. Attorneys for the kids, who in some cases are now adults, said kids were improperly put behind bars more than 1,500 times. A disproportionate number of which were minorities.
Only some of these children elected to be a part of a class-action lawsuit where Rutherford County agreed to pay $11 million to settle. While lawmakers call it a crucial first step, they’re determined to vote Davenport out before anyone votes her back in.
“Incarcerating children as young as 8-years-old is abuse. That’s child abuse and so if people feel like they want that kind of discipline with children, they need to seek a different venue than our government system,” Campbell said.
The since-condemned filter system is no longer policy, but legislators said the only way to make sure is by removing Davenport. If this resolution passes, a joint committee will hear arguments and make recommendations for or against removal before it returns to legislators for a final vote.
Davenport has been the only person in her position since it was created in 2000. This will be the first year she’s expected to face an opponent after the county’s senior judicial commissioner Jacob Flatt announced he too will run for the position.
Davenport has not responded to NewsChannel 5's latest request for comment.