published Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Niota officials tied to beating fired; they say insurance company forced the action

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

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

Niota, Tenn., leaders on Thursday fired two police officers whose trial on charges of official oppression ended with charges dismissed in McMinn County Circuit Court last week.

Mayor Lois Preece said Niota's municipal insurance provider said city would be dropped if the officers, who were suspended after the July 2011 incident, were allowed to go back on duty.

"If we retained the two officers our insurance company would have canceled that insurance and our other two police officers would have had to be laid off," Preece wrote in an email.

Sgt. Keith McCarter and Officer Jonathan Scott were charged eight months after local resident Ray Stewart was beaten following a traffic stop. Stewart suffered a broken collarbone and a scalp gash that required staples.

Friday, Stewart was happy to see the officers go.

"It's several years too late," he said. "If they'd fired them earlier, I would've never been beaten up."

Last week, four days into the officers' trial for official oppression and conspiracy to commit official oppression, the case was dismissed because Stewart allegedly snapped photos of jurors' license plates outside the McMinn County Courthouse in Athens.

But Stewart said Friday that those allegations are false. He said he was taking photos of a red pickup he believes is tied to a tire-slashing incident involving his wife's van.

Although the charges against McCarter and Scott were dismissed last week, Stewart is still pursuing nearly $35 million in damages through multiple lawsuits.

He said the two officers should face trial.

"They're criminals," he said. "This is how this town operates."

At the time of the 2011 incident, Scott had been a certified police officer for only three weeks. McCarter -- while working for police departments in Vonore, Etowah and Niota -- had a long disciplinary record, including suspensions for misconduct and use of unnecessary force, giving 911 records to someone without authorization, failure to appear in court, and for arresting someone in another county while off duty and out of uniform.

He said that he will pursue federal aid in prosecuting McCarter and Scott and proving he was not tampering with juror information.

Stewart claims the arrest and injuries he sustained in 2011 were in retaliation for his complaints that Niota officers were patrolling and making arrests outside Niota's city limits.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at 423-757-6731 or agreen@timesfreepress.com.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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