Lawsuit claims Bradley County Sheriff's Office tried to cover up needless killing by deputy

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photo Bradley County Sheriff Deputy Tiffany Oakley

The family of a 23-year-old man shot to death last year by a Bradley County, Tenn., deputy has filed a $3 million lawsuit saying he was needlessly killed and charging the sheriff's office covered up what really happened.

When the shooting happened on July 28, 2015, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office said Deputy Tiffany Oakley was assaulted by a stranger and used deadly force to defend herself.

At the time, a sheriff's office spokesman told the Times Free Press that Oakley was working the night shift and went home for a meal at her home on Oak Tree Lane Southeast in Cleveland.

She was outside the house when someone she didn't know "stepped out of the shadows and accosted her," said the department's spokesman at the time, Ed Ramsey.

He said there was a "strenuous fight" that left the deputy "bruised up pretty good."

"From what I heard, he was out to do her in, it surely sounded like," Ramsey said at the time.

However, the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Bradley County Circuit Court states Oakley knew who the man walking through the neighborhood at 2 a.m. was - that she and Allan F. White III were "very familiar" and "had a friendly relationship" with each other, and that he was on his way either to her home or a neighbor's.

The suit states that White "was unarmed and was trying to get away" when Oakley "confronted and attacked" him. The suit claims she fired three shots from her service weapon, hitting him twice, and also shocked him with her Taser.

White was hit once in the abdomen from close up, and once in the upper leg from the back, the suit states.

Then, the lawsuit claims, Oakley didn't tell the truth about what happened in her radio reports or to her supervisors and investigators.

Oakley "misrepresented the true facts, denied her previous relationship with, and familiarity with, the decedent and made false and intentionally untrue statements to police officers and investigators and investigating agencies in order to escape responsibility," the lawsuit states.

photo Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson speaks with on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Cleveland, Tenn., about efforts his department is undertaking on behalf of Neal and Zoe Keller. The Keller's son, Joe Keller, is missing in Colorado.

Further, the lawsuit claims Sheriff Eric Watson "knowingly joined in and allowed the false statements of the defendant, Oakley, to be unchallenged and proffered statements to the media which were designed to mislead and misrepresent the true facts "

The suit, filed by attorney Randy Rogers on behalf of White's parents, Allen F. White Jr. and Marlene White, names Watson and Oakley as defendants both professionally and personally, along with Bradley County government. It claims wrongful death and violation of White's constitutional rights.

It claims the Bradley County Sheriff's Office "failed to investigate inconsistencies in [Oakley's] stories, [and] instead chose to accept her self-serving stories."

That, the lawsuit claims, is part of a "custom and pattern of practice of exonerating its officers and its superiors from alleged wrongs, improper conduct and allegations of illegal acts" that allow miscreant officers to "deny with impunity their culpability and responsibility for improper actions."

In May, a Bradley County grand jury looked at the case and declined to indict Oakley. Tenth Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump said Thursday he gave the entire Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file to the grand jury but did not recommend an indictment.

He said the evidence included information on the prior relationship of White and Oakley.

Though it was a "tragic circumstance," Crump said, "it appeared to be a just shooting to me and my office and to the TBI."

Rogers did not return calls seeking comment.

Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg said Thursday she could not comment on the lawsuit.

She did confirm a settlement is expected soon in a separate lawsuit against the sheriff's office.

The American Atheists Counsel and a local "Jane Doe" plaintiff sued Watson and the sheriff's office in May for First Amendment violations over what they said was proselytizing for Christianity on the Bradley County Sheriff's Office Facebook page and for censoring comments from those opposed to the religious posts.

The two sides said in a court filing earlier this month they had participated in a successful mediation but gave no details.

Multiple sources told the Times Free Press the settlement involves the county paying an amount in the neighborhood of $40,000 and possibly some kind of monitoring of the sheriff's office's social media posts.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.