Former Hamilton County deputy Daniel Wilkey admits to baptizing woman, claims it was her idea

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Daniel Wilkey, HSCO deputy, waits to get a new Jan. 24, 2020, court date Friday morning in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom, Dec. 20, 2019.
Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Daniel Wilkey, HSCO deputy, waits to get a new Jan. 24, 2020, court date Friday morning in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom, Dec. 20, 2019.

Now-criminally indicted former Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Daniel Wilkey has admitted to baptizing a woman after a traffic stop last year, but he claims it was her idea.

The admission was made in a response to a federal lawsuit filed by the woman, who claims she was coerced into letting Wilkey baptize her under the threat of jail time for an alleged drug violation.

"[She] requested she be baptized so she could turn away from her life of drug abuse and crime," the response states.

The Times Free Press is not identifying the woman because of the alleged nature of her encounters with Wilkey.

The 26-year-old former deputy is at the center of 10 current civil lawsuits, and in December 2019 he was indicted on 44 criminal charges, including six counts of sexual battery, two counts of rape and nine counts of official oppression. Some of the criminal charges are for allegations set forth in the civil cases, including the one involving the baptism.

According to the $11 million lawsuit filed by attorney Robin Flores, Wilkey detained the woman late at night on Feb. 6, 2019, as she was driving in the Soddy-Daisy area. He then searched her by "feeling, through [her] clothing, her breasts, abdomen, buttocks, inner thighs, and her crotch."

The butt of a marijuana cigarette was found in her car.

Wilkey then allegedly asked the woman if she believed in Jesus Christ and whether she was "saved." He told her that God was "talking to him during the vehicle search" and that he "felt the Lord wanted him to baptize [her]," the suit states. He said if she grabbed two towels and let him baptize her, he would issue her only a criminal citation for the possession of marijuana rather than taking her to jail, and that he would speak to the judge on her behalf.

He then told her to get in her car and follow him, the suit claims. They eventually arrived at a boat ramp at Soddy Lake where another deputy - Jacob Goforth - arrived shortly thereafter and stood by watching Wilkey baptize the woman.

Goforth's attorney Gerald Tidwell also has filed a response to the lawsuit.

With the exception of certain details, much of the alleged event is confirmed in Wilkey's response, filed last month by attorney Jim Exum.

While Wilkey admitted to baptizing the woman, he said it was at her request and with her consent.

Wilkey called the woman a "known drug dealer" in the response and admitted to the stop and search but denied touching her inappropriately. He said he searched her because she admitted to having marijuana in the vehicle.

He denied asking her if she'd been "saved" or saying that God was "talking to him."

"Unprompted, the [woman] specifically requested Deputy Wilkey to baptize her," Exum wrote in the response." ... [She] was the first to discuss the subject of baptism[.]"

Wilkey confirmed asking the woman to gather two towels and telling her to follow him to Soddy Lake, but claimed "no deal was made with [her] to avoid prosecution, as the citation was almost complete when [she] began discussing baptism." And Wilkey did not go to court to speak on her behalf.

"She was under no compulsion to be baptized or to follow Wilkey - she willingly followed him in her own car and of her own choice," Exum wrote. " ... She was told multiple times that she did not have to go with him and was free to leave after receiving the citation."

Wilkey denied "stripp[ing] nearly naked," but in Goforth's response, he claims Wilkey "removed all of his clothes except his compression boxer shorts and a tee shirt."

Wilkey denied that the woman "felt horribly violated," as attorney Flores claimed, because she "told Deputy Wilkey she was happy."

As for Goforth's side, he claimed he didn't know that the woman had been pulled over by Wilkey or that she'd been to her house with Wilkey to retrieve some towels. He didn't know that a baptism was taking place until after being at the scene for "some time," according to his response.

Goforth admitted to not intervening in the baptism because the woman was allegedly "not only making statement of religious fervor but appeared to be a more than willing participant in the ceremony."

Therefore, attorney Tidwell argued, Goforth had no duty to intervene "in any apparently voluntary religious ritual.

"As a matter of training, police officers are not trained in how to intervene in religious ceremonies," Tidwell wrote. "Police officers are trained to render aid to those seeking it or in apparent need. This is an event completely outside of any training given to Goforth."

Tidwell states his client didn't report the baptism to supervisors because he thought the woman voluntarily took part, "and while unusual was not aware that it violated any laws." But Goforth did cooperate when questioned by supervisors.

Both deputies have asked for the suit to be dismissed and for their attorney fees to be reimbursed.

The woman's "injuries and damages, if any, were caused by the deliberate, criminal conduct of [herself], and such criminal conduct supersedes any and all negligence of liability, if any, on the part of [Wilkey]," Exum wrote.

Wilkey faces five criminal charges in connection to the baptism: extortion, false imprisonment, official oppression, assault and stalking.

The woman pleaded guilty in March 2019 to possession of a controlled substance in connection to the stop. Eight months later, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston threw out the conviction, stating it was "the result of deprivations and denials of rights secured by both the State of Tennessee and the United States constitution."

Contact Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.

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