Thanks to the reporting of WPLN’S Meribah Knight and ProPublica’s Ken Armstrong, more people are taking a closer look at the bizarre and reprehensible situation down in Murfreesboro: Judge Donna Scott Davenport has been regularly jailing children — elementary school kids — and parading herself around as some kind of Great White Mother to Rutherford County’s children.
The specific instance that Knight and Armstrong investigated was the arrest of 11 children back in 2016 for not stopping a fight, even though the police sent to arrest the children didn’t clearly know the identities of all the children. One of the children arrested was, according to video evidence, trying to stop the fight, and the “crime” they charged the child with was not actually a crime.
Let me remind you: These were children. The 8-year-old who was handcuffed is still a child.
One of the things that really stands out to me in Knight and Armstrong’s reporting, though, is just how many people knew or should have known that Judge Davenport was completely out of line for years — that she had set up her own way of dealing with juveniles that ran contrary to what other judges across the state were doing. This allowed her to torture children by taking them away from their parents and subjecting them to incarceration, with all the humiliation that entails — like showering naked in front of an adult you don’t know.
Since at least 2012, according to Knight and Armstrong’s reporting, Davenport has regularly told the media some variation of “It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it.” This is just objectively not true. Even with the rise in crime rates we’ve seen over the past couple of years, crime rates in the 21st century have been significantly lower than they were previously. The fact that a juvenile judge’s beliefs about crime rates were so different from objective reality raised no concerns from any of the people she said this to?
How did Davenport ever get a job with MTSU (where she was employed as an adjunct instructor before the WPLN/ProPublica report) when her résumé didn’t match reality? Was she not subject to the same basic background checks anyone else hired by a university has to go through?
And according to Knight and Armstrong’s reporting, Davenport was getting her decisions overturned at the appellate level not due to, say, disagreements in how to interpret the law, but for shit like taking a child from their mother and encouraging their foster parents to adopt the child before her decision could be appealed. It never raised any alarms with anyone with any power that she was openly working against and defying the very judicial system she was supposed to be a part of?
The things she’s doing to children are sadistic. The situation she set herself up in is nightmarish. And it’s not surprising that she’s found so many people willing to be a part of it. There are bad people in the world. They will find each other and support their wrongdoing. That’s not surprising.
But what’s disappointing is seeing just how many people knew what was going on and shrugged their shoulders. They saw this widespread systemic harm of children and couldn’t be bothered to try to help those children. Rutherford County, for instance, has paid out huge settlements to Davenport's victims. They know her approach creates child victims whom they then have to pay off. The Rutherford County public safety commission this year still approved an increase in her budget.
I don’t know how we fix stuff like this. I don’t know if it can be fixed. If the people who oversee Davenport know this is what she’s doing and they keep funding her, then obviously the problem is much deeper than just her.