Death penalty decision expected in January

Sean Finnegan, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

Rebecca Dishman, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

CLINTON—A decision could be announced in January about whether to seek the death penalty for two Oak Ridge defendants charged with three counts of first-degree murder each in the gruesome kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 36-year-old woman.

The victim, Jennifer Gail Paxton, was found during a search of a home on East Fairview Road on August 5, 2020, after the Oak Ridge Police Department responded to a report of a possible homicide. Paxton had allegedly been lured to the home with the promise of a place to stay but, once there, became the victim of a series of gruesome crimes, according to arrest warrants filed by Oak Ridge Police Department Sergeant Marvell Moore. She was allegedly kidnapped, tortured, raped, strangled, and her body stuffed into a freezer, according to the warrants.

The man and woman charged in Paxton’s death are Sean Shannon Finnegan, 54, and Rebecca Elizabeth Dishman, 23. They have both been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and 10 other charges, including aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping. A prosecutor told a judge last year that the two could face the death penalty for the “especially heinous” murder. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Finnegan and Dishman are charged in a separate case with aggravated rape of a child. A conviction in that case would result in an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole, Anthony Craighead, deputy district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District in Anderson County, told Judge Steven Sword.

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Sean Finnegan, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

Rebecca Dishman, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

CLINTON—A decision could be announced in January about whether to seek the death penalty for two Oak Ridge defendants charged with three counts of first-degree murder each in the gruesome kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 36-year-old woman.

The victim, Jennifer Gail Paxton, was found during a search of a home on East Fairview Road on August 5, 2020, after the Oak Ridge Police Department responded to a report of a possible homicide. Paxton had allegedly been lured to the home with the promise of a place to stay but, once there, became the victim of a series of gruesome crimes, according to arrest warrants filed by Oak Ridge Police Department Sergeant Marvell Moore. She was allegedly kidnapped, tortured, raped, strangled, and her body stuffed into a freezer, according to the warrants.

The man and woman charged in Paxton’s death are Sean Shannon Finnegan, 54, and Rebecca Elizabeth Dishman, 23. They have both been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and 10 other charges, including aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping. A prosecutor told a judge last year that the two could face the death penalty for the “especially heinous” murder. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Finnegan and Dishman are charged in a separate case with aggravated rape of a child. A conviction in that case would result in an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole, Anthony Craighead, deputy district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District in Anderson County, told Judge Steven Sword.

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Sean Finnegan, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

Note: This story was last updated at 2:15 p.m.

CLINTON—A decision could be announced in January about whether to seek the death penalty for two Oak Ridge defendants charged with three counts of first-degree murder each in the gruesome kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 36-year-old woman.

Sean Finnegan, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

Rebecca Dishman, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

CLINTON—A decision could be announced in January about whether to seek the death penalty for two Oak Ridge defendants charged with three counts of first-degree murder each in the gruesome kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 36-year-old woman.

The victim, Jennifer Gail Paxton, was found during a search of a home on East Fairview Road on August 5, 2020, after the Oak Ridge Police Department responded to a report of a possible homicide. Paxton had allegedly been lured to the home with the promise of a place to stay but, once there, became the victim of a series of gruesome crimes, according to arrest warrants filed by Oak Ridge Police Department Sergeant Marvell Moore. She was allegedly kidnapped, tortured, raped, strangled, and her body stuffed into a freezer, according to the warrants.

The man and woman charged in Paxton’s death are Sean Shannon Finnegan, 54, and Rebecca Elizabeth Dishman, 23. They have both been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and 10 other charges, including aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping. A prosecutor told a judge last year that the two could face the death penalty for the “especially heinous” murder. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Finnegan and Dishman are charged in a separate case with aggravated rape of a child. A conviction in that case would result in an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole, Anthony Craighead, deputy district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District in Anderson County, told Judge Steven Sword.

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Students who posted shooting threats charged with terrorism, mass violence threats

Oak Ridge High School was on lockdown on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, after administrators were made aware of a shooting threat posted on social media. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

The Oak Ridge Police Department has charged three students with terrorism and threats of mass violence after they allegedly made school shooting threats in two separate incidents on social media on Monday and Tuesday.

The charges were filed in Anderson County Juvenile Court on Wednesday afternoon, and the court authorized the detention of the children in the Richard L. Bean Detention Facility in Knox County. The children were taken into custody Wednesday afternoon, Seventh Judicial District Attorney General Dave Clark said.

All three juveniles were charged with terrorism, threat of mass violence on school property, and false report. Two of the children were allegedly involved in a shooting threat posted on Snapchat on Monday, and they were also charged with conspiracy. That threat led to a lockdown at Oak Ridge High School on Monday. The third child was allegedly involved in a separate shooting threat that was posted on Snapchat on Tuesday, and that student will face the first three charges.

Clark said the children are required to have a detention hearing quickly under Tennessee law, and that hearing could occur as soon as Thursday afternoon in Anderson County Juvenile Court.

[Read more…]

Sexual harassment lawsuit against county appealed to Sixth Circuit


The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building United States Courthouse is pictured above on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

  A jury found she had been sexually harassed while working for Anderson County, but the county was not liable. Then, since she did not prevail in the civil trial, she was ordered to pay about $1,800 in costs to Anderson County. Now that’s on hold. The former employee, Gail Harness, has appealed her $7.5 million sexual harassment lawsuit against Anderson County to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building United States Courthouse is pictured above on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

A jury found she had been sexually harassed while working for Anderson County, but the county was not liable.

Then, since she did not prevail in the civil trial, she was ordered to pay about $1,800 in costs to Anderson County.


The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building United States Courthouse is pictured above on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

  A jury found she had been sexually harassed while working for Anderson County, but the county was not liable. Then, since she did not prevail in the civil trial, she was ordered to pay about $1,800 in costs to Anderson County. Now that’s on hold. The former employee, Gail Harness, has appealed her $7.5 million sexual harassment lawsuit against Anderson County to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Statutory rape, misconduct charges dismissed against former officer after probation

Charges against Cassen Jackson-Garrison, right, a former Oak Ridge Police Department police officer, were dismissed this year after two years of supervised probation. Jackson-Garrison had agreed to plead guilty to statutory rape and official misconduct in 2017. His attorney, Greg Isaacs, left, said Jackson-Garrison had accepted responsibility for the allegations, and he compared Jackson-Garrison’s childhood story to the one portrayed in the movie “The Blind Side.” The probation was a judicial diversion, allowing the felony charges to be dismissed if Jackson-Garrison complied with the terms and conditions. Jackson-Garrison and Isaacs are pictured above during a plea agreement hearing in Anderson County Criminal Court on Monday, June 12, 2017. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

After a two-year probation, charges were dismissed this year against a former Oak Ridge Police Department officer who had agreed to plead guilty to statutory rape and official misconduct in 2017.

His attorney successfully asked for judicial diversion for Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 36, more than three years ago, although the state opposed it. The judicial diversion gave Jackson-Garrison, a former star football player, the opportunity to have the felony charges dismissed and expunged, or removed from his record, at the end of his probationary period. But he had to comply with the terms and conditions. The two-year supervised probation ended in December 2019.

 

Charges against Cassen Jackson-Garrison, standing at right, a former Oak Ridge Police Department police officer, were dismissed this year after two years of supervised probation. Jackson-Garrison had agreed to plead guilty to statutory rape and official misconduct in 2017. His attorney, Greg Isaacs, standing next to Jackson-Garrison, said Jackson-Garrison had accepted responsibility for the allegations, and he compared his client’s childhood story to the one portrayed in the movie “The Blind Side.” The probation was a judicial diversion, allowing the felony charges to be dismissed if Jackson-Garrison complied with the terms and conditions. Jackson-Garrison and Isaacs are pictured above during a plea agreement hearing in Anderson County Criminal Court on Monday, June 12, 2017. (File photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

After a two-year probation, charges were dismissed this year against a former Oak Ridge Police Department officer who had agreed to plead guilty to statutory rape and official misconduct in 2017.

His attorney successfully asked for judicial diversion for Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 36, more than three years ago, although the state opposed it. The judicial diversion gave Jackson-Garrison, a former star football player, the opportunity to have the felony charges dismissed and expunged, or removed from his record, at the end of his probationary period. But he had to comply with the terms and conditions. The two-year probation ended in December 2019.

The charges were dismissed in January 2021, after Jackson-Garrison completed the terms of his diversion sentence.

The plea agreement has been previously reported, but the dismissal of the charges has not been. The charges appear to have now been expunged from Jackson-Garrison’s record, at least the portion that is publicly available.

Jackson-Garrison surrendered his P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer Standards Training) certification for police officers as part of his plea agreement, but he will not be placed on the sex offender registry.

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Appeals court upholds attempted murder conviction

Curtis-Isabell-McKinley-McGee-Sentencing-Sept-9-2019
McKinnley Earl McGee, 51, of Oak Ridge, who is pictured above at right, was sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison in Anderson County Criminal Court on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, for an attempted murder during a stabbing that injured a woman so severely that she would have died if she hadn’t received medical treatment, a judge and prosecutor said. At left is defense attorney Curtis Isabell. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld an attempted murder conviction against an Oak Ridge man who received the maximum 20-year prison sentence for a stabbing that injured a woman so severely that she reportedly would have died if she hadn’t received medical treatment.

McKinnley McGee was convicted of attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and aggravated assault with serious bodily injury two years ago, after a one-day trial in Anderson County Criminal Court in July 2019. He was convicted of stabbing and trying to kill Machel Elaine Avery on Utica Circle in Oak Ridge on January 12, 2018.

Curtis-Isabell-McKinley-McGee-Sentencing-Sept-9-2019

McKinnley Earl McGee, of Oak Ridge, who is pictured above at right, was sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison in Anderson County Criminal Court on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, for an attempted murder during a stabbing that injured a woman so severely that she would have died if she hadn’t received medical treatment, a judge and prosecutor said. At left is defense attorney Curtis Isabell. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld an attempted murder conviction against an Oak Ridge man who received the maximum 20-year prison sentence for a stabbing that injured a woman so severely that she reportedly would have died if she hadn’t received medical treatment.

McKinnley McGee was convicted of attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and aggravated assault with serious bodily injury two years ago, after a one-day trial in Anderson County Criminal Court in July 2019. He was convicted of stabbing and trying to kill Machel Elaine Avery on Utica Circle in Oak Ridge on January 12, 2018.

McGee was sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison in September that year. That was based in part on his extensive criminal record, which includes at least eight felony convictions and seven misdemeanors dating back 30 years in Anderson County and California, according to court records and information provided during the sentencing hearing.

In his appeal, McGee had questioned whether the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction for attempted second-degree murder. He argued that prosecutors had failed to prove that he acted in a way that was intended and reasonably certain to cause Avery’s death, the appeals court said.

But in an opinion published April 9, the appeals court found that the evidence was sufficient. The opinion has not been previously reported.

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For members: Three plead guilty, one sentenced to 10 years in drug conspiracy after overdose death

Three people have pleaded guilty in federal court to drug and conspiracy charges related at least in part to an overdose death in Oak Ridge in 2017. One of the defendants, a 28-year-old Knoxville woman, was sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison on Thursday. The drug conspiracy involved the distribution of fentanyl and heroin.

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The Howard H. Baker Jr. United States Courthouse is pictured above in Knoxville on Jan. 19, 2020. (File photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

Three people have pleaded guilty in federal court to drug and conspiracy charges related at least in part to an overdose death due to fentanyl in Oak Ridge in 2017. One of the defendants, a 28-year-old Knoxville woman, was sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison on Thursday. The drug conspiracy involved the distribution of fentanyl and heroin.

The Knoxville woman, Katarina S. Carinci, pleaded guilty last year. She was sentenced to 125 months, or 10 years and five months, on July 1 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville by District Court Judge Thomas Varlan. Her prison sentence will be followed by five years of supervised release.

Three people have pleaded guilty in federal court to drug and conspiracy charges related at least in part to an overdose death in Oak Ridge in 2017. One of the defendants, a 28-year-old Knoxville woman, was sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison on Thursday. The drug conspiracy involved the distribution of fentanyl and heroin.

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For members: Witnesses testify in sexual harassment lawsuit filed against county

The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building United States Courthouse is pictured above on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

CHATTANOOGA—Four women who testified during a civil sexual harassment trial in federal court last week said their former boss, a former Anderson County elected official, caressed them around the waist, rubbed them, sent graphic messages about oral sex, and asked them to have sex with him and his wife, among other allegations of inappropriate behavior. The experiences have left them traumatized, the women said, unable to eat or sleep, suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and in one case, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Two of the women have filed lawsuits in federal court over the alleged harassment by former Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones, who served one term from 2014 to 2018. A trial was held for one of the lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga last week. That lawsuit was filed in March 2018 by former employee Gail Harness, who started working for Jones as a college intern in 2016. The lawsuit had alleged that Harness had endured a hostile work environment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. 

On Thursday, a seven-person federal jury found that Harness had been sexually harassed while working for Jones, but the jury found that the county was not liable. No damages were awarded.

Jones was originally a defendant in the lawsuit, but he was dismissed in June 2019, leaving Anderson County as the sole defendant. Jones was not the employer, so Harness could not sue him, Senior U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier said in court Wednesday. 

Jones had denied the allegations of sexual harassment, and he filed counterclaims in response to both lawsuits, the one filed by Harness and a second filed by Amy Ogle. In response to the Harness lawsuit, Jones had alleged that he had been defamed and his privacy invaded. But that was before before a jury found that Harness had been sexually harassed. Responding to the Ogle lawsuit, Jones has asked for at least $15,000 for legal services and fees.

The trial of the Harness lawsuit left unanswered, at least for now, a question about what can be done when an elected official violates constitutional rights. The county’s human resources director said a change in law might be required. 

The four-day trial included disagreements between the testimony of former Anderson County Human Resources Director Russell Bearden and Mayor Terry Frank. The two disagreed about when the mayor knew about allegations of sexual harassment by Jones. They disagreed about whether the mayor retaliated and whether she protected Jones over the women he allegedly harassed. And they disagreed about whether she told the former human resources director to not take a complaint to the county law director because that would “cause a political storm.” 

The trial, which was Monday to Thursday, had nine witnesses. They included Harness, the former employee who filed the $7.5 million lawsuit against Anderson County in 2018; her psychologist, who testified that Harness had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; three other alleged victims of Jones; the current human resources director, Kimberly Jeffers-Whitaker; a deposition of the county law director, Jay Yeager; Frank; and Bearden. 

Attorneys for Harness said the litigation will continue, and they said during the trial that it could be appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Harness’ attorneys disagreed with the jury instructions. Among the questions raised by the judge during the trial was whether Jones made policy for Anderson County and whether he is a county official or state official. The defense, Anderson County, argued that the office of circuit court clerk is created by the state constitution, while Harness’ attorneys said the county had delegated authority to Jones and he supervised county employees.

The allegations against Jones became public in February 2018. The Anderson County Commission censured Jones that same month. Jones ran for re-election despite the allegations, although he lost the May 2018 Republican Party primary to the current clerk, Rex Lynch. However, Jones remains involved in local politics; he is currently vice treasurer of the Anderson County Republican Party. Jones declined to comment about the lawsuit or trial on Thursday. 

The presentation of the evidence during the civil trial last week lasted three days, Monday to Wednesday. The jury deliberated Thursday. Here we have included a chronological summary of the evidence presented to the jury. It includes information about the allegations of sexual harassment, the county’s response, and Jones’ response. We have also summarized discussions between the attorneys and Collier, the judge, and included more information about the jury verdict.

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The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building United States Courthouse is pictured above on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

CHATTANOOGA—Four women who testified during a civil sexual harassment trial in federal court last week said their former boss, a former Anderson County elected official, caressed them around the waist, rubbed them, sent graphic messages about oral sex, and asked them to have sex with him and his wife, among other allegations of inappropriate behavior. The experiences have left them traumatized, the women said, unable to eat or sleep, suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and in one case, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Two of the women have filed lawsuits in federal court over the alleged harassment by former Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones, who served one term from 2014 to 2018. A trial was held for one of the lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga last week. That lawsuit was filed in March 2018 by former employee Gail Harness, who started working for Jones as a college intern in 2016. The lawsuit alleged that Harness had endured a hostile work environment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Human Rights Act.

The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building United States Courthouse is pictured above on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

CHATTANOOGA—Four women who testified during a civil sexual harassment trial in federal court last week said their former boss, a former Anderson County elected official, caressed them around the waist, rubbed them, sent graphic messages about oral sex, and asked them to have sex with him and his wife, among other allegations of inappropriate behavior. The experiences have left them traumatized, the women said, unable to eat or sleep, suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and in one case, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Two of the women have filed lawsuits in federal court over the alleged harassment by former Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones, who served one term from 2014 to 2018. A trial was held for one of the lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga last week. That lawsuit was filed in March 2018 by former employee Gail Harness, who started working for Jones as a college intern in 2016. The lawsuit had alleged that Harness had endured a hostile work environment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. 

On Thursday, a seven-person federal jury found that Harness had been sexually harassed while working for Jones, but the jury found that the county was not liable. No damages were awarded.

Jones was originally a defendant in the lawsuit, but he was dismissed in June 2019, leaving Anderson County as the sole defendant. Jones was not the employer, so Harness could not sue him, Senior U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier said in court Wednesday. 

Jones had denied the allegations of sexual harassment, and he filed counterclaims in response to both lawsuits, the one filed by Harness and a second filed by Amy Ogle. In response to the Harness lawsuit, Jones had alleged that he had been defamed and his privacy invaded. But that was before before a jury found that Harness had been sexually harassed. Responding to the Ogle lawsuit, Jones has asked for at least $15,000 for legal services and fees.

The trial of the Harness lawsuit left unanswered, at least for now, a question about what can be done when an elected official violates constitutional rights. The county’s human resources director said a change in law might be required. 

The four-day trial included disagreements between the testimony of former Anderson County Human Resources Director Russell Bearden and Mayor Terry Frank. The two disagreed about when the mayor knew about allegations of sexual harassment by Jones. They disagreed about whether the mayor retaliated and whether she protected Jones over the women he allegedly harassed. And they disagreed about whether she told the former human resources director to not take a complaint to the county law director because that would “cause a political storm.” 

The trial, which was Monday to Thursday, had nine witnesses. They included Harness, the former employee who filed the $7.5 million lawsuit against Anderson County in 2018; her psychologist, who testified that Harness had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; three other alleged victims of Jones; the current human resources director, Kimberly Jeffers-Whitaker; a deposition of the county law director, Jay Yeager; Frank; and Bearden. 

Attorneys for Harness said the litigation will continue, and they said during the trial that it could be appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Harness’ attorneys disagreed with the jury instructions. Among the questions raised by the judge during the trial was whether Jones made policy for Anderson County and whether he is a county official or state official. The defense, Anderson County, argued that the office of circuit court clerk is created by the state constitution, while Harness’ attorneys said the county had delegated authority to Jones and he supervised county employees.

The allegations against Jones became public in February 2018. The Anderson County Commission censured Jones that same month. Jones ran for re-election despite the allegations, although he lost the May 2018 Republican Party primary to the current clerk, Rex Lynch. However, Jones remains involved in local politics; he is currently vice treasurer of the Anderson County Republican Party. Jones declined to comment about the lawsuit or trial on Thursday. 

The presentation of the evidence during the civil trial last week lasted three days, Monday to Wednesday. The jury deliberated Thursday. Here we have included a chronological summary of the evidence presented to the jury. It includes information about the allegations of sexual harassment, the county’s response, and Jones’ response. We have also summarized discussions between the attorneys and Collier, the judge, and included more information about the jury verdict.

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Jury: Anderson County not liable for sexual harassment by former elected official

The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building United States Courthouse is pictured above on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

Note: This story was last updated at 10:30 p.m.

CHATTANOOGA—A seven-person federal jury on Thursday found that a former Anderson County employee had been sexually harassed by former Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones, but the county was not liable. The former employee, Gail Harness, had filed a lawsuit in federal court because of the sexual harassment, and she had sought $7.5 million in damages.

The lawsuit was tried in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga from Monday to Thursday.

Attorneys for Harness had alleged that Anderson County had inadequate training or supervision and had tolerated violations of federal law. Harness had endured a hostile work environment caused by the pervasive, unwelcome sexual advances from Jones, and her rights had been violated under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the attorneys said. Harness had sought damages for pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, permanent injury, and loss of enjoyment of life and reputation.

But attorneys for the defendant, Anderson County, said the county had no control over Jones, an elected official, and the county had investigated after Harness filed her complaint in 2017. 

Four women testified in federal court in Chattanooga this week. They said Jones had caressed them around the waist, rubbed them, whispered inappropriate things about how other employees looked, sent graphic sexual messages about oral sex, asked them for “alone time” and to accompany him on a trip, and responded to a question about a job with a message that included a suggestion to send a picture of breasts, among other allegations. Jones referred to himself as “Daddy,” the women said, and he asked Harness to have sex with him and his wife, according to her testimony. Jones boasted about being unaccountable to anyone except the voters of Anderson County, according to the witnesses. Employees said they worried about being moved to the Oak Ridge court—the “clerk’s graveyard”—or fired if they didn’t please Jones or comply.

“He is an elected official, and he told us all the time, no one can touch me,” said employee Tracy Spitzer, a witness for Harness.

“They were all scared to do anything about it,” said Richard Collins, one of three attorneys for Harness.

Jones said he could do whatever he wanted, including masturbate in his office, according to the testimony.

[Read more…]

For members: Millions of gallons in sewer system overflows reported in four-year period

An Oak Ridge wastewater overflow tank is pictured above on Emory Valley Road on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

Note: This story was last updated at 3:20 p.m. June 6.

Millions of gallons in sewer system overflows were reported to the state by the City of Oak Ridge between 2012 and 2017, and most of the largest overflows—500,000 gallons or more—were reported in the summer of 2013, according to a federal lawsuit that could be settled soon.

The lawsuit by Tennessee Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization based in Alabama, was filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville in 2018. It alleged that the city had reported about 40 million gallons of sewer system overflows in a four-year period near local waters and that the city had violated the Clean Water Act. The city denied the claim. The lawsuit had sought to force the city to make repairs to keep pollutants out of creeks and rivers, and to charge the city $37,500 per violation per day. It also asked the city to pay reasonable attorney’s fees and expert fees. Riverkeeper said the discharges have affected how often its members use the Tennessee River and its tributaries for recreation. The discharges continued through at least early 2017, with more overflows reported later, according to the lawsuit and legal documents filed in the case.

Now, the lawsuit could be settled if the court approves and Oak Ridge makes at least $4 million in repairs by 2025 and pays more than $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. The settlement agreement was approved by City Council in May. A notice about the agreement was filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Thursday.

The largest overflows, by volume, were reported about two years before the city completed millions of dollars worth of repairs to its aging sewer system and built three large wastewater holding tanks after an order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. The EPA order had required the city to bring itself into compliance with its discharge permit. However, the overflows continued even after the city said it had satisfied the conditions of the EPA order, according to the lawsuit, although the overflows appeared to be at a lower volume than in the summer of 2013.

Legal arguments in the case have included debate over whether Tennessee Riverkeeper has standing—someone who had been injured by the sewer system overflows—and whether the discharges have continued.

The rest of this story, which you will read only on Oak Ridge Today, is available if you are a member: a subscriber, advertiser, or contributor to Oak Ridge Today.

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An Oak Ridge wastewater overflow tank is pictured above on Emory Valley Road on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

Note: This story was last updated at 3:20 p.m. June 6.

Millions of gallons in sewer system overflows were reported to the state by the City of Oak Ridge between 2012 and 2017, and most of the largest overflows—500,000 gallons or more each—were reported in the summer of 2013, according to a federal lawsuit that could be settled soon.

An Oak Ridge wastewater overflow tank is pictured above on Emory Valley Road on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

Note: This story was last updated at 3:20 p.m. June 6.

Millions of gallons in sewer system overflows were reported to the state by the City of Oak Ridge between 2012 and 2017, and most of the largest overflows—500,000 gallons or more—were reported in the summer of 2013, according to a federal lawsuit that could be settled soon.

The lawsuit by Tennessee Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization based in Alabama, was filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville in 2018. It alleged that the city had reported about 40 million gallons of sewer system overflows in a four-year period near local waters and that the city had violated the Clean Water Act. The city denied the claim. The lawsuit had sought to force the city to make repairs to keep pollutants out of creeks and rivers, and to charge the city $37,500 per violation per day. It also asked the city to pay reasonable attorney’s fees and expert fees. Riverkeeper said the discharges have affected how often its members use the Tennessee River and its tributaries for recreation. The discharges continued through at least early 2017, with more overflows reported later, according to the lawsuit and legal documents filed in the case.

Now, the lawsuit could be settled if the court approves and Oak Ridge makes at least $4 million in repairs by 2025 and pays more than $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. The settlement agreement was approved by City Council in May. A notice about the agreement was filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Thursday.

The largest overflows, by volume, were reported about two years before the city completed millions of dollars worth of repairs to its aging sewer system and built three large wastewater holding tanks after an order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. The EPA order had required the city to bring itself into compliance with its discharge permit. However, the overflows continued even after the city said it had satisfied the conditions of the EPA order, according to the lawsuit, although the overflows appeared to be at a lower volume than in the summer of 2013.

Legal arguments in the case have included debate over whether Tennessee Riverkeeper has standing—someone who had been injured by the sewer system overflows—and whether the discharges have continued.

The rest of this story, which you will read only on Oak Ridge Today, is available if you are a member: a subscriber, advertiser, or contributor to Oak Ridge Today.

Already a member? Great! Thank you! Sign in here.

Not a member? No problem! Subscribe here:

Basic

Pro

Temporary

If you prefer to send a check, you may do so by mailing one to:

Oak Ridge Today
P.O. Box 6064
Oak Ridge, TN 37831

We also have advanced subscription options. You can see them here.

We also accept donations. You can donate here. A donation of $50 or more will make you eligible for a subscription.

Thank you for reading Oak Ridge Today. We appreciate your support!