MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — Pastor Vincent Windrow says he and his congregation were shocked by revelations in a new report that showed Rutherford County systematically targeted minority children.
When you’ve gone years thinking this was one problem, in one school, it’s hard reading words that prove otherwise.
“I was blown away and I could not stop thinking about it,” Windrow said.
From the pulpit on Sunday morning, Windrow gave a sermon filled with the findings of a ProPublica article to his Olive Branch Church congregation.
Even as some of the very families mentioned in the article were in the pews, Windrow says most couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
“We had been led to believe by the powers that be that the Hobgood Elementary episode was just an isolated incident and was not part of a series of incidents that occurred for almost 20 years,” Windrow said.
We know that in 2016, 10 predominantly Black children were arrested by Murfreesboro Police for not breaking up a fight captured on video. It was a misdemeanor charge, if a charge at all, but some children as young as eight-years-old were handcuffed and taken to a cell.
Windrow said it’s easy to distance ourselves when we don’t see our children in these articles, which is why he challenged his congregation to imagine what it was like if they were children under these circumstances.
“Put yourself in handcuffs. Put yourself in that situation. Put yourself in the back of a patrol car,” Windrow said.
NewsChannel 5 had extensive coverage in the years that followed as all charges against these children were dropped, but the question remained as to how many children were impacted.
“Yes, it’s a crisis, but it’s a created crisis. Someone manufactured the crisis,” Windrow said.
At the peak of their now condemned “filter” system, Rutherford County jailers locked up kids at a rate nearly ten times the state average of 5%. Judge Donna Scott Davenport remains one of few people in the same position as she was five years ago. Davenport signed off on the policy which gave jailers the authority to make these decisions based on a child’s perceived threat.
Kyle Mothershead is the attorney representing these now young adults in a class-action lawsuit. We first reported that last month a judge awarded them $11 million for being wrongfully arrested and detained. For more information on how to file a claim for the class action lawsuit, click here.
“There’s an enormous amount of class members out there. We identified about 450 arrest class members and about 1,000 detention class members,” Mothershead said
Mothershead says some claims that were filed weren’t even noted in their initial count, but still met the standards for this class action lawsuit. He says this proves there could be even more cases out there.
What’s troubling for Mothershead is knowing some could miss out on money they’re entitled to, if they don’t file by the October 29th deadline.
Vanderbilt Legal Clinic has agreed to help with outreach to get the word to all who qualify for a cut of the multi-million dollar settlement. Some may see as much as $10,000 which Mothershead says could drastically help these young adults who often grew up in low-income families.
“You can build a life when you’re 20 and have nothing. It’s extremely important for the kids who were affected,” said Mothershead.
Mothershead says it would be tragic to see money left on the table because the county will be forced to pay a certain amount based on the number of claims filed. He said this has never been about money, but instead offering some relief and holding the system accountable.
“They need to learn a lesson that you don’t just do this and ignore experts who say what you’re doing is wrong,” Mothershead said.
While Davenport declined to comment, Windrow and Mothershead say this is bigger than just one person. For a systemic issue to be corrected, we need a systemic answer.
"What tends to happen in these very cases is that one or two people will get in trouble, but then the system rolls on because the system can say look what we did. We found the guilty parties. It's the system that has to be shamed and dismantled. Otherwise, someone else will get in that seat and continue this wickedness," Windrow said.
Of the eight officers involved with charging these children in 2016, five were disciplined. Only five remain on the job.
The after-action report which was filed in 2016 outlined corrective actions including improving communications and changing the way young people are handled in such situations.
Since the incident, Murfreesboro Police say officers can now informally interact with parents of juvenile offenders. Police will also no longer serve juvenile warrants unless there is a court order.
Rutherford County Bill Ketron says while they can’t say much about pending litigation, "I share our community’s concerns over a news story that was recently released involving Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system. Changes to the system were put in place in 2017 to ensure that the county is strictly following required federal and state laws regarding arresting and detaining juveniles."