Note: this story was updated to correct the name of the judge appointed to oversee the case. The original version of the story had incorrect information obtained from a Hamilton County court clerk and the court's website.
A new judge has been appointed to the case involving a group of local police brutality protesters after their leader made a social media post that led to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into allegations of retaliation against the previous judge.
Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins last month appointed Senior Judge Don Ash to hear the cases and decide whether to send the charges to a grand jury for indictment.
Senior judges are former trial and appellate court judges who may be assigned on a temporary basis to any state court as needed, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. They are appointed to four-year terms by the Supreme Court.
During a September court appearance, Judge Gary Starnes declined a verbal request to dismiss the case prior to hearing evidence, a move that would have been premature due to prosecutors opposing the request for dismissal.
The small group of protesters, led by Marie Mott and Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams, face multiple charges stemming from two separate July incidents: the burning of a Hamilton County Sheriff's Office flag and the blocking of an emergency vehicle that was on its way to a motorcycle crash.
Mott and Williams were two of the most prominent leaders of Chattanooga's summer of protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The death sparked a national reckoning over police brutality as demonstrations across the nation broke out.
After their September court appearance, Mott logged on to Facebook and shared a group of Judge Gary Starnes' photos from his personal Facebook page, saying, "Judge Starnes needs to recuse himself from our case! You can't support police and be impartial in our case!"
The photos showed Starnes' 9-year-old grandson carrying a replica of a shotgun over his shoulder and dressed in what Starnes called a SWAT uniform and leading a small group of other children through the neighborhood to show support for police.
"Very proud," Starnes had written on his posting of the photo.
Mott's post, which was deleted not long after it was posted, was discussed widely across social media by others calling on Starnes to recuse himself.
Starnes did recuse himself, but emphasized that his recusal came after what he called "vicious, personal attacks" on social media about himself and his grandson, which he said made it impossible for him to impartially hear at least one of the activists' cases.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston asked the TBI to investigate Mott's statements or actions to determine whether they amount to retaliation or threats.
On Friday, the TBI said its investigation remains active.
A charge of "retaliation for past action" is a Class E felony and carries a punishment of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.
Mott has announced her candidacy for Chattanooga City Council. Anyone who has been convicted of a felony cannot serve as an elected official for the city of Chattanooga.
Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.