The operator assured Adams she was doing “the right thing,” but as Adams remained on the line awaiting police, her husband placed 8-month-old Autumn Leigh Clark in the back of his car. “I’m fixing to just grab her out of the backseat,” she told the operator, but when she tried to get to Autumn, the car doors were locked.
The transcript of the call also reflects statements Adams made to her husband, whom she pleaded with to leave the baby, warning, “You can’t even take care of her...you don’t even wake up at night.”
Jeremy Clark ignored his wife’s pleas, but just as he began backing his car out of the driveway, two police cruisers pulled up to the house.
For the moment, Adams was relieved, believing her child was safe. But within a matter of minutes her nightmare resumed when the two responding officers allowed Clark to take the infant after all, threatening to arrest Adams if she intervened.
And so Adams watched tearfully as her husband drove away with Autumn on the afternoon of Aug. 6, 2005. It was the last time she would see her daughter alive.
Later that night, while sleeping in the same bed as her father, Autumn stopped breathing, and was pronounced dead upon arriving at the hospital.
In a recorded telephone conversation several days after the child’s death, Clark told Adams, “I still believe my baby girl would be alive if I hadn’t left the house,” adding, “I probably just threw the pillow over the top of her and snuggled on top of her.”
A year after Autumn’s death, Adams filed a lawsuit against her ex-husband, the Hendersonville Police Department and the officers who responded to her call that day. In recent weeks, witness depositions, interview transcripts and recorded phone conversations have been filed in the case in federal court, shedding more light on the circumstances leading up to the infant’s death, as well as the aftermath of the tragedy.
During an interview with Hendersonville police detective James Vaughn just weeks after Autumn’s death, Clark explained how he left home early on the morning of Aug. 6, 2005, and spent several hours working a manual labor job at Hermitage Explosives. While still on the clock, he shared a six-pack of Natural Ice beer with two of his co-workers. Clark said he started drinking at 1 p.m. and drank three beers that afternoon.
Shortly after 4 p.m. Clark returned home, where he and Adams got into a heated argument about his drinking and lack of parental care, according to court documents. “She told me she didn’t love me and, you know, wanted a divorce,” he said. The dispute escalated and Clark told his wife he was leaving with their 8-month-old daughter, along with his 3-year-old son from a previous relationship, and taking them to his mother’s house in Macon County.
Lawyers for the defendants say Clark wanted to take the children out of the house to defuse the situation, but attorneys for Adams argue he took Autumn to anger his wife, claiming he threatened that she would never see the infant again: “He was not motivated by an altruistic impulse to protect, but by a spiteful desire to cause emotional pain to his wife.”
As Clark tried to pull out of the driveway, police arrived and told him to get out of his car. Clark admitted he had been drinking earlier that day, and he was asked to perform a field sobriety test.
Police determined he successfully completed the test, which included standing on one foot, and walking a straight line. “Then [the officers] went back up there and talked to each other and then shrugged and come [sic] back and told me to take my kids and go to my mom’s and call my wife when I got there,” Clark recalled.
When detective Vaughn asked how he would have responded if the officers had instead allowed his wife to take the baby back inside the house, Clark said, “I would have felt that they, you know, done their job. I mean, that’s their decision.”
Later that night, while staying with family in Macon County, Clark said he went to sleep sharing a mattress on the living room floor with his two children—his toddler son on the right, and infant daughter to his left.
When he awoke a few hours later, he said a pillow was covering Autumn’s face.
In the pending lawsuit, Adams claims Clark either “intentionally murdered his own biological child out of spite,” or “in an act of deliberate and gross recklessness, while intoxicated or otherwise impaired, he rolled over on the infant, smothering her.”
A subsequent investigation and autopsy determined the manner of death was “natural,” although lawyers for Adams have previously suggested the investigation and attempt to prosecute Clark were halfhearted.
Although lawyers for all involved parties declined to comment for this story until the lawsuit is finished, Nashville attorney Richard Tennent, who represents Adams, said during an interview last year, “I would expect in Davidson County it would have been prosecuted as first-degree murder.”
In a tape-recorded phone call between Adams and Clark just days after Autumn died, Clark made several disturbing statements, at times clearly accepting responsibility for his daughter’s death:
God made me do it when I’m asleep [sic].... I still believe my baby girl would be alive if I hadn’t of left the house.... It happened for a reason and it sucks.... I wish they’d have put me in jail.... I ended up fucking killing my baby girl.... I know that I done something, but I didn’t do it intentionally.... everybody’s saying it could be SIDS, but I don’t believe that because I woke up with a, you know, seeing a pillow over her head.... I believe I either smothered her or rolled over on top of her.
Despite these admissions shortly after the tragedy, Clark shirked responsibility during an August 2007 deposition. While being deposed, Clark said he did not believe that he smothered his child, but rather that she died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. As for the previous admissions, the defendant’s counsel suggests those were merely the statements of a grief-stricken father.
The lawsuit further blames the responding police officers—James Garrett and Russell Lara—for unconstitutionally preventing Adams from removing her child from danger, ultimately resulting in the child’s death.
When Adams asked if she could remove her child from the car and take her inside, the officers said she “probably” would be arrested and charged with domestic assault. “Under no conceivable reading of the laws of Tennessee could the act of removing a child from a car equate to domestic assault,” the plaintiff argues in court documents. Her lawyers point out that Hendersonville Police Department policy makes no mention of how to settle child custody disputes. In addition, Adams claims she told officer Lara that her husband had never before cared for their child alone overnight, that he was not a good father, and that she feared something bad would happen if he left with the infant.
Neither officer ever was disciplined or required to undergo additional training following this incident, and the department supports the course of action the officers took that day. Both the police department and the city of Hendersonville also are named as defendants in the suit.
In a recent motion asking the judge to rule in their favor, attorneys representing Hendersonville argue the plaintiff has used sensational language and misconstrued the facts in this case in an effort to have the case heard by a jury. They argue the plaintiff’s latest take on the facts might better be summarized as: “Police allow a drunk man to steal a child knowing that he would later kill her.”
And although lawyers for the police have said the officers could not have foreseen the impending tragedy, Adams’ attorneys fault the officers for preventing their client from exercising her own “deadly accurate 20/20 foresight.”
In defending his decision to award custody to Clark that day, however, officer Garrett said during a deposition taken in July 2007: “A child in that situation, sir, is the same thing as a television set. It’s a piece of property that they own together. I wouldn’t take a television set out of his vehicle.”
It's about time he was arrested.
TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBow! TEbow. Tebow....Teb....T....
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