Woman suing former Hamilton County deputy after he baptized her during traffic stop found dead

FOR LEAD PHOTO THUMBNAIL Getty Images / Police car, lights tile
FOR LEAD PHOTO THUMBNAIL Getty Images / Police car, lights tile

Soddy-Daisy resident Shandle Marie Riley, 42, the woman who was reportedly baptized against her will by a Hamilton County deputy during a 2019 traffic stop, was found dead by local authorities Wednesday night.

"TBI special agents are working a death investigation in Soddy-Daisy, after Hamilton County deputies initially responding to a call [Wednesday night] requested to recuse their agency from the investigation," Susan Niland, the public information officer for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said in an email. "District Attorney General Neal Pinkston requested TBI agents investigate the death of Shandle Marie Riley, who was found deceased at a residence on Log Cabin Road. The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death. The investigation remains active and ongoing at this time."

The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office told the Times Free Press via telephone it was too early to determine Riley's cause of death.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office directed all inquiries to the TBI.

A U.S. District Court judge decided April 8 that a lawsuit against former deputy Daniel Wilkey in connection with the baptism could proceed.

Judge Travis R. McDonough said in his judgment that the baptism performed by Wilkey violated the woman's choice of religion as well as violating the state's own duty to respect the persons' choice.

"If citizens are subjected to state-sponsored religious exercises, the state disavows its own duty to guard and respect that sphere of inviolable conscience and belief which is the mark of a free people," the ruling said. "Baptism of detainees by law-enforcement officers runs directly counter to the government's substantial interest in guaranteeing the free exercise of religion without government intervention. Any seizure for the purpose of conducting a baptism intruded upon [the woman's] liberty without furthering any government interest and was therefore unreasonable."

Wilkey stopped Riley on Feb. 6, 2019, shortly after 9 p.m. as she was driving through the Soddy-Daisy area.

"Riley confessed to having a marijuana roach in her cigarette pack," court documents said.

The documents further state Wilkey search Riley twice. The second time, he "inappropriately touched her crotch."

Wilkey told Riley "God [was] talking to him and assured [Riley] if she got baptized, [Wilkey] would only write her a citation and she would be free to go about her business," the court documents said.

The baptism took place in Soddy Lake and was recorded by another deputy, Jacob Goforth, on his cellphone.

While McDonough ruled that several aspects of the complaint against former deputy Goforth could not continue, the judge said that Goforth failed to protect Riley from Wilkey's use of excessive force.

Wilkey is facing several multimillion-dollar lawsuits for use of excessive force in other incidents, including the alleged unlawful body cavity search of a man while performing a traffic stop and the alleged groping of female minors. The requested damages in the lawsuits total around $11 million.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.

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