Federal Suit has Sheriff Duke Going to Tennessee

- A Texas Sheriff's Association convention back in 2011 leads to another gathering of law and government officials next week. In a federal courtroom in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

It also leads to a significant bill for taxpayers. This convoluted legal mess began when Wichita County Sheriff David Duke and other law officers attended a convention in Houston three years ago. At that convention, Duke made an agreement with Donna Johnson and her Chattanooga company, Cherokee Studios,   to come to Wichita County and take photos of the Sheriff's office staff, after hearing good reports of her work from other sheriff's offices. She came to Wichita Falls later that year to take the photos and returned home to process the order. Later that year Johnson apparently closed her business, and said she would have previous contracted jobs completed with a different company. She says she kept Duke informed of the delays, but Duke says she quit returning calls and eventually could not be located.

In Tennessee media reports, Duke said that Johnson promised the photos would be delivered within six weeks, but months and months went by with no word on when she would deliver. Duke says he learned other agencies were having similar problems and after months of trying to get her to deliver, he said in desperation he finally had a warrant issued on her for theft. The woman was arrested by officers in Tennessee on the charges and her equipment was seized and sent to Texas. The theft charges were dismissed in February, 2012 in an agreement to return the equipment to her so she could finish the job.

Many of the photos were never delivered according to reports by the Chattanooga newspaper and NBC station. Later in 2012, Johnson filed a federal lawsuit alleging violation of her civil rights. She said she was kicked and beaten while in the Silverdale detention center in Chattanooga and threatened with sexual assault. She claimed the abuse was because detention officers believed she had taken advantage of a law enforcement agency.

A spokesperson for the company that runs the private prison said in 2012 no evidence of her claims had been found. Johnson is seeking at least a half million dollars for her pain and suffering. Wichita county would like to see the suit dismissed, but is still having to send Duke and several others to Tennessee next week to testify, and attorneys to defend Duke and the county. Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom says there are two cases on the docket before the lawsuit, so officials do not know for sure when or if it will begin.

The county will be represented by a civil law attorney from the district attorney's office and also by a Tennessee attorney. Despite this, the county on Friday has a special meeting to approve expenses for Duke and others who may testify, including, justice of the peace Mike Little (because he issued the warrant) and for attorneys and other expenses.

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