Monroe County, Tenn., sheriff's detectives framing a man for murder coaxed witnesses to lie, faked evidence, masqueraded as his attorneys and ignored a confession by someone else, a lawsuit states.
A judge last August threw out murder charges against Monroe County resident John Edward Dawson Jr. in the 2006 Troy Green killing after a key witness said he had lied at a detective's behest. Dawson was freed after four years awaiting trial in the Monroe County Jail.
Now Dawson has filed what could be a multimillion-dollar federal civil rights lawsuit against Sheriff Bill Bivens, Detectives James Patrick Henry and Doug Brannon, and Monroe County.
"John Edward Dawson Jr. was wrongfully charged with murder, deprived of his freedom, subjected to extreme stress and humiliation, and has suffered substantial damages," states the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.
The lawsuit asks for $1 million in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages for violating Dawson's Fourth Amendment rights.
Bivens did not return a message seeking comment Thursday. County Attorney Jerome Melson, of Knoxville, said Thursday afternoon he had just received a copy of the suit.
"The county intends to pursue a vigorous defense of all allegations and claims raised in the lawsuit," Melson said.
Most of the allegations in Dawson's lawsuit also are detailed in court records and testimony.
Green, a Monroe County businessman, went missing April 22, 2006. His car was found April 24, 2006, in McMinn County, Tenn., and his body was found two weeks later in Roane County, Tenn. He had been shot.
Henry, the lead investigator, interviewed a man named Monte Cox who had bought a gun like Green's at a flea market. Henry persuaded Cox to lie and say he bought the gun from Dawson.
While Dawson was in the Monroe County Jail on unrelated criminal charges in 2008, Henry arranged for Dawson's cellmate, Todd Sweet, to question him about the killing. They planted a recorder in Sweet's shoes. Henry faked stationery from the bogus legal firm of Harris and Fink and wrote to Sweet in the persona of an attorney. Brannon pretended to be an associate of the fake firm and met with Dawson in the jail. They persuaded Dawson to stop talking to his appointed public defender, saying they were representing him now.
Questioned in two court hearings about suborning a witness and posing as an attorney, Henry pleaded his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit states, Henry and Brannon did not question or investigate suspects turned up by other law officers, including a "confession by an inmate that he had hired someone to murder Troy Green."
The lawsuit states that Henry and Brannon lied and used fabricated evidence to indict Dawson for murder in 2010.
According to court records and the lawsuit, Bivens knew what the detectives were up to and did nothing to stop them, even after 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb called and told him to knock off the snitching by Sweet.
Also according to records and the lawsuit, then-Assistant District Attorney Jim Stutts advised Henry and Brannon and helped get Dawson's seized truck returned to Dawson's wife in furtherance of the scheme.
Stutts since has resigned from the district attorney's office and has said he intends to run for Monroe County mayor. He declined to comment Thursday and steered calls to 10th Judicial District headquarters.
Even after the detectives' actions came to light, a judge refused to dismiss charges against Dawson and he pleaded guilty. But he appealed on the grounds that the scheme had interfered with his constitutional right to counsel.
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, calling the detectives' actions "abhorrent" and "reprehensible" and dismissing the earlier charges.
The suit accuses Henry and Brannon of malicious prosecution. It charges Bivens with failing to stop the constitutional violations and says that such behavior was customary in Monroe County because the county failed to train its officers or to supervise or discipline them for misconduct.
The case was part of a Times Free Press series last year that sparked an investigation of the 10th District DA's office by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the state comptroller's office.
Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper reviewed the results and declared there were no prosecutable violations by Bebb. No charges have been brought to date against anyone after the four-month probe.
Now, committees named by the state House and Senate are reviewing the TBI file as part of what state lawmakers call their obligation to oversee the district attorney's office.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, chairman of the Senate committee, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
House committee Chairman Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said members are reviewing the TBI material and expect within a few weeks to convene in a closed-door, "grand jury type session," to decide where the evidence points.
"We're plowing new ground. This has never been done before in the history of the state. We're still trying to get our hands around the magnitude of this situation," Shipley said Thursday.
He said the committee may hold public hearings and invited anyone with information of interest to bring it forward.
"We have an overriding responsibility to apply oversight to our district attorneys, to maintain and, if necessary, restore the faith of our citizens in our system."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Subscribe to Judy on Facebook at Facebook.com/JudyCTFP.
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 ...