published Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Victim frustrated with investigation of Niota police

Jonathan Scott, from left, and Keith McCarter are Niota, Tenn., police officers suspended after being indicted for beating a motorist they were arresting.
Jonathan Scott, from left, and Keith McCarter are Niota, Tenn., police officers suspended after being indicted for beating a motorist they were arresting.

DONALD KEITH MCCARTER

Vonore Police Department

* June 6, 2000: Hired

* Dec. 19, 2001: Suspended five days, six months' probation for misconduct, unnecessary force (four complaints).

* Oct. 4, 2002: Chief recommends three days unpaid suspension for giving 911 record to a person outside law enforcement. It's not clear whether he was suspended.

* Feb. 5, 2003: Two-day suspension for failure to appear in court. One DUI case had to be dismissed and four other cases delayed.

* Feb. 21, 2004: Terminated by Chief Michael D. Bledsoe, no reason given.

Etowah Police Department

* April 1, 2005: Hired

* Feb. 21, 2006: Reprimanded for sexually harassing dispatchers at Athens E-911.

* May 30, 2008: Reprimanded for using profanity when dealing with the public.

* Sept. 28, 2008: Verbal notice about "the abusive tasing of a dog which died as a result of the overuse of the taser" on Aug. 11, 2008.

* Nov. 17, 2008: Reprimand and six months' probation for chronic absenteeism.

* Jan. 12, 2009: Two-day suspension for arresting someone in another county while off-duty and out of uniform.

* Jan. 16, 2009: Resigned

Niota Police Department

* Feb. 7, 2009: Hired

* April 25, 2012: Suspended indefinitely after indictment on charge of official oppression and conspiracy to commit official oppression.

Source: Department personnel records

The case against two Niota, Tenn., police officers charged in the beating of a motorist last year is getting complicated.

The prosecutor wants the judge taken off the case. The defense is talking about removing the prosecutor.

And the victim wants the slate wiped clean and the whole case begun again with a fresh cast, from investigator to judge.

"I can throw everyone in the 10th [Judicial] District farther than I can trust them," said Ray Stewart, who ended up with eight staples in his scalp, a broken collarbone and a raft of charges after an incident on June 13, 2011.

Those charges -- three counts of resisting and evading arrest and four traffic charges -- eventually were dismissed in state and municipal court in Niota, Tenn., a town about 56 miles northeast of Chattanooga.

The Niota police officers, Sgt. Keith McCarter, 46, and Patrolman Jonathan Scott, 23, were suspended after their April indictment on charges of official oppression and conspiracy to commit official oppression in connection with Stewart's arrest.

Their trial was set for Nov. 5, but that was upset when 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb filed a motion for Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy to recuse herself from hearing the case on grounds of potential bias.

The issue wasn't resolved in a hearing last week, and McCarter's attorney, Charles C. Burks Jr., of Knoxville, said he may ask for a special prosecutor because some 10th District assistant district attorneys may be called to testify in Scott's and McCarter's trials about advice they gave the Niota officers.

What Stewart wants is "a complete, outside investigation from the TBI and a special prosecutor and judge" of what he contends is "massive corruption" at all levels of government in McMinn County.

Bebb did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

In fact, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state attorney general and the state comptroller's office are investigating the 10th Judicial District and so is a special prosecutor named by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.

The probes began after a six-day Chattanooga Times Free Press series in August raised questions about alleged financial and prosecutorial impropriety in the 10th Judicial District, which covers the counties of Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk.

Beyond the limit

Stewart said he was targeted after he complained to Niota leaders about city police officers doing traffic stops, holding license checks, making DUI arrests and otherwise enforcing the law outside city limits.

A civilian contractor who operates cranes and drives trucks on federal contracts, Stewart was a newcomer to Niota. He, his wife and daughter were living in a rented building on County Road 316 that housed a flea market on the west side of Interstate 75 at exit 56.

When he first saw Niota officers policing outside their jurisdiction, he said, he called the city as to "whether this was appropriate or legal." The city responded, he said, by shutting off water service to the rental building.

On Friday, the Niota Water Department was unable to provide records on the incident.

Stewart said he was on the agenda for the Niota City Commission meeting on June 13, 2011, where he intended to complain about the alleged police behavior and the water shutoff.

That evening, driving his Verucci scooter along County Road 309, he said, he remembered some papers he had left behind and made a U-turn while crossing the bridge over Interstate 75.

Stewart said Scott was in a police cruiser at a truck stop east of the exit ramp, more than a mile outside the Niota town limits, talking to a McMinn deputy.

Scott had been certified as a police officer three weeks earlier -- May 21, 2011 -- and hired by Niota. He had confronted Stewart in early June and demanded license and registration for the scooter. Stewart claims the bike was exempt from state license, insurance and registration requirements because its engine was less than 50cc's.

As Scott spotted Stewart passed on the bright-yellow scooter, Scott pulled out and followed. The patrol car's dash camera shows Scott following Stewart over the bridge and into the flea market driveway. The dash cam audio was not operating as Scott followed the scooter, but Scott switches it on as he gets out of the car and asks Stewart for his paperwork.

Stewart refuses, telling the officer that he's outside Niota's jurisdiction and that no paperwork is required. Stewart goes inside the building and Scott calls for help over the radio.

McCarter, a longtime officer with an extensive disciplinary record who moonlights as a professional wrestler, shows up within moments, and both men go inside the building. In his affidavit of complaint on charges of resisting and evading arrest, Scott stated that he and McCarter entered the house and tried to arrest Stewart, who resisted and tried to hit McCarter. Scott said a "straight arm-bar takedown was performed" and Stewart was cuffed.

Stewart said he was on the phone with 911 calling for help when the officers came in and "immediately began beating on me."

Medical records show Stewart had a large gash on the back of his head and a broken collarbone. On the cruiser's audio, he can be heard moaning and asking for a lawyer as police try to make him show identification. After being treated at Athens Regional Medical Center, he was taken to the McMinn County Jail.

Scott's attorney, Scott Kanavos, of Cleveland, Tenn., declined to comment Friday.

Burks said the defense denies the official oppression charge.

"We believe that Officer Scott's stop and actions thereafter were not unlawful and the defendants are not guilty as charged," he said.

Consequences

Bebb's motion for recusal against Reedy states that she knows the police officers and was represented by Burks when Bebb filed a complaint against her in a 2010 murder case.

"Any ruling made in the course of these causes by this honorable court against the state of Tennessee will be viewed with skepticism by the victim, even if supported by the laws of Tennessee," the motion states.

Stewart agrees with that statement, but he blames 10th District prosecutors rather than the judge.

He said he went to the McMinn County grand jury "at least five times" last year, seeking to have the officers indicted. It never happened. He said he talked with several TBI officials who all told him Bebb had refused to authorize an investigation.

Stewart said he finally met with Bebb in January, the same month the TBI says Bebb asked for a TBI investigation of the incident.

Stewart said his arrest cost him his federal security clearance, so he can't do federal contract work. Even if he could, the head wound means he would have to pass a physical, which he can't afford. He's been told by prosecutors not to leave McMinn County because he's a witness in the case.

He has filed state and federal lawsuits naming numerous Niota and McMinn County officials as defendants and is representing himself in court.

"This has been mishandled atrociously and grievously. It's damaged my case and my family," he said.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

advertisement
advertisement
400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.