New prosecutor sought in Niota police case

ATHENS, Tenn. - The judge stays, but a new prosecutor will be named in the case against two Niota police officers accused in the beating of a motorist last year.

Niota Sgt. Keith McCarter and Patrolman Jonathan Scott were indicted in April on charges of official oppression and conspiracy to commit official oppression. The charges date from June 13, 2011, when McCarter and Scott injured Ray Stewart, of Niota, while arresting him on a traffic charge. Niota is in McMinn County, about 56 miles northeast of Chattanooga.

McCarter and Scott charged Stewart with resisting and evading arrest as well as four traffic counts. Stewart claimed the officers were out of their jurisdiction and had no right to detain or arrest him. All charges against Stewart in Niota City Court and McMinn Criminal Court have been dismissed.

A hearing was set Friday on 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb's motion for Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy to recuse herself "to avoid the appearance of partiality." Bebb's motion claimed that Reedy might appear to be partial because she had worked with the officers in court and because Bebb earlier had filed a complaint against Reedy with the Court of the Judiciary.

But at the start of the hearing, Bebb said he was recusing his office from the case and would ask the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference to appoint someone else.

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Bebb said he had referred Stewart's case to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and subsequently had indicted McCarter and Scott. Bebb said he ordered an investigation of everything appropriate to the case.

But, he said, Stewart had gone to the media asking for a new judge and a wider investigation.

"Everybody wants to try their case in the media. I do not try cases in the media, ever, and I don't appreciate those who do," Bebb said.

Reedy said she had written an order denying Bebb's request that she step aside. She said she barely knew the officers from court and that she had not taken personally Bebb's complaint against her, which was dismissed in May 2011.

Bebb's recusal made moot a motion by Charles Burks, the attorney for McCarter, also asking the 10th District to step aside. Burks' motion said he might call some of the assistant district attorneys to testify about what advice they gave the officers, so it wouldn't be appropriate for the 10th District to prosecute the case.

After Bebb's complaints about media, Reedy slapped a gag order on the officers of the court until a new prosecutor is named.

"I don't like to do gag orders, but sometimes it has to be done. Both sides are entitled to a fair trial," Reedy said.

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