Craft files $25 million lawsuit

Craft files $25 million lawsuit

May 25th, 2010 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

The defendants

Defendants listed in the suit:

* Sandra Lamb -- mother of one of the girls, who accused Ms. Craft

* Sherri Wilson -- friend of Ms. Lamb who accused Ms. Craft

* Dewayne Wilson -- husband of Mrs. Wilson

* Joal Henke -- Ms. Craft's ex-husband who accused her

* Sarah Henke -- married to Mr. Henke and also accused Ms. Craft

* Kelli McDonald -- mother of one of the girl who accused Ms. Craft

* Tim Deal -- the Catoosa County Sheriff's office detective who lead the investigation

* Catoosa County, Ga. -- the government entity

* The Catoosa County Sheriff's office -- a municipal entity

* Phil Summers -- the Catoosa County sheriff

* Suzie Thorne -- a social worker who interviewed several girls

* Stacy Long -- a social worker who interviewed several girls

* Laurie Evans -- therapists for the three girls

* Children's Advocacy Center of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit

* The Greenhouse Children's Advocacy Center

Source: The U.S. District Court in Northern Georgia court documents

In a $25 million federal lawsuit, Tonya Craft claims her accusers lied in court and conspired to bring false allegations forward against her by manipulating the children involved.

Attorneys for Ms. Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher acquitted on child molestation charges, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Northern Georgia on Monday. The lawsuit names the families and agencies involved in her case and the entire Catoosa County government as defendants.

"It's totally ruined her reputation, it's damaged her as a teacher, removed her from a profession she loved, it's removed her from her children for two years," said Clancy Covert, one of Ms. Craft's defense attorneys.

Ms. Craft was acquitted on all 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery in Catoosa County Superior Court on May 11.

The lawsuit, a 52-page complaint filed Monday in Rome, Ga., names the parents of the three girls that alleged the child molestation: Ms. Craft's former husband, Joal Henke, Sandra Lamb and Kelli McDonald.

Mr. Henke and Ms. McDonald declined to comment Monday. Ms. Lamb did not return calls seeking comment.

Ms. Craft's lawsuit states that, during the investigation into the child molestation claims, she was arrested without probable cause, and the three girls were "intimidated and manipulated" with leading question during their interviews.

The suit also claims Ms. Craft's accusers defamed her name by using statements that included calling her "a sexual pervert" and "a physically assaultive and abusive parent."

Ms. Craft also asks that the federal court require the agencies involved, including the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office and both the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit and Conasauga Circuit's Children's Advocacy Center, to change their protocol for interviewing children.

The agencies "took no action to discipline their employees for past unlawful behavior, to prevent the repetition of such behavior, or to take any action against or even adequately investigate the incidents similar," the lawsuit states.

While the Children's Advocacy Center in Fort Oglethorpe did not return calls seeking comment Monday, Director Ione Sells said in an earlier interview that her staff was qualified.

"As any organization, if we can change we will," Ms. Sells said in an interview last Tuesday. "But my current staff I support."

The Catoosa County Sheriff's Office, including Detective Tim Deal, the lead investigator in Ms. Craft's case, and Sheriff Phil Summers are also listed in Ms. Craft's lawsuit.

Sheriff Summers said he would defend his detectives and himself "vigorously" in court.

"I feel confident we will be vindicated by the court," he said Monday.

Ms. Craft wants to make sure this doesn't happen to other people, her attorney said.

That's why she and her defense team are "asking the interviewers and those involved received the training and skill set they need to give proper interviews," Mr. Covert said.