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Girl Says Creepy Deputy Took Her Home

NASHVILLE (CN) - Telling her not to wake up her parents, a sheriff's deputy followed a teenager into her bedroom and made her change her clothes while he photographed her, the girl claims in court.

Jane Doe's parents Tabetha and Ricky O'Connor sued Sumner County, Tenn., and its Deputy Sheriff Christopher Cunningham, in Federal Court.

The complaint cites a dozen disciplinary actions against Cunningham, allegedly culminating with his firing after the incidents described in the complaint.

The parents claim that Cunningham stopped Jane, her boyfriend and her brother on the street at 3 a.m. and searched them, then took them back to their house.

The family claims that the kids, who had done nothing wrong, were intimidated by Cunningham's display of authority, and obeyed his orders.

"On July 26, 2012, at approximately 3 a.m., Deputy Cunningham observed Jane Doe, her boyfriend, John Doe and Shawn O'Connor on Mt. Vernon Road," the complaint states. "Jane Doe was 13 years old, John Doe was 16 years old and [Jane's brother] Shawn O'Connor was 18 years old. Plaintiff Shawn O'Connor has developmental disabilities. At the time of this initial observation, Deputy Cunningham did not observe any conduct between the three children which would indicate that a crime had been committed or that the children were engaged in criminal activity. Accordingly, there was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that the children were engaged in criminal behavior or were armed and dangerous."

Cunningham took the teen-agers to his police car, interrogated them, and subjected Jane to a pat-down search, without calling the kids' parents or reading their rights, according to the complaint.

"Despite the fact that Jane Doe and John Doe were minors, Deputy Cunningham failed to contact their parents," the complaint states. "Instead, Deputy Cunningham proceeded to interrogate the children without parental consent and without providing the requisite Miranda rights. During the course of this interrogation, Deputy Cunningham was informed that Jane Doe and John Doe had been in a verbal argument over a text message. Deputy Cunningham asked Jane Doe to let her [sic] view the text message. Jane Doe informed Deputy Cunningham that she did not have her phone and that the text message had been erased. Despite this fact, Deputy Cunningham informed Jane Doe that he needed to review the phone.

"Deputy Cunningham then ordered John Doe and Shawn O'Connor to the front of the patrol vehicle and ordered Jane Doe to come with Deputy Cunningham to the rear of the patrol car. Jane Doe was wearing a pair of gym shorts with a sleeveless shirt. Therefore, it would be obvious to any reasonable officer that Jane Doe was not concealing any weapons or contraband and that any physical search of Jane Doe's body would be illegal and unconstitutional.


"Once at the rear of the vehicle, Deputy Cunningham conducted a physical search of Jane Doe's body. Prior to performing this physical search of Jane Doe's body, Deputy Cunningham failed to request the presence of a female officer to conduct the search. Deputy Cunningham asked Jane Doe to raise her hair and shirt to midriff. Thereafter, Deputy Cunningham then conducted a 'pat down' of Jane Doe's body which included rubbing his hands on Jane Doe's ribs and legs and inspecting Jane Doe from the front and back. This touching and physical search of Jane Doe's body was non-consensual, illegal and unconstitutional as there was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that Jane Doe had committed any crime or was involved in any illegal activity and this search was performed without parental consent and/or the effective proper consent. At no time during the events alleged herein did Deputy Cunningham perform 'pat down' or physical search of Shawn O'Connor or John Doe."

After Cunningham insisted on seeing Jane's phone, he told the teenagers to get into his car and drove them to Jane's home, according to the complaint.

"Once Deputy Cunningham arrived at the plaintiffs' home, Deputy Cunningham ordered Jane Doe out of the vehicle and instructed John Doe and Shawn O'Connor to remain inside the police vehicle," the complaint states. "The continued detention of Shawn O'Connor in the patrol vehicle was illegal and unconstitutional.

"Upon arrival at plaintiffs' home, Deputy Cunningham failed to make contact with Jane Doe or Shawn O'Connor's parents who were sleeping at the home. Instead, Deputy Cunningham instructed Jane Doe to enter the home and retrieve the phone without notifying her parents. As Jane Doe entered the home, Deputy Cunningham followed her into the home. This entry into the plaintiffs' home was performed without a warrant and without parental consent or effective consent of Jane Doe. As Deputy Cunningham entered into plaintiffs' home without a warrant and proper consent, this entry constitutes an illegal and unconstitutional entry into the plaintiffs' home."

The O'Connors say Cunningham told Jane not to wake her parents, and followed her to her room, where he searched her phone.

"While in Jane Doe's room, Deputy Cunningham questioned Jane Doe about the clothing that Jane Doe was wearing in the text message and ordered her to put on the bra and shirt that she was wearing in the text message," the complaint states. "Again, these actions by Deputy Cunningham were illegal and unconstitutional as Deputy Cunningham did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that Jane Doe had been engaged in criminal activity and were performed without parental consent and the effective consent of Jane Doe.

"As ordered, Jane Doe began to change into the clothes that she was wearing in the text message. As Jane Doe was changing her clothes as ordered, Deputy Cunningham surreptitiously began to take photographs of Jane Doe in various states of undress. This conduct of Deputy Cunningham was illegal and an unconstitutional invasion of Jane Doe's privacy.

"After Jane Doe completed changing her clothes as ordered, Deputy Cunningham began searching the nightstand and other areas of Jane Doe's room. This search of Jane Doe's room was unconstitutional and illegal as it was performed without a warrant and either parental consent or the effective consent of Jane Doe, a minor."

After Cunningham and Jane left the house and the deputy let the boys out of the car, Cunningham told Jane she was beautiful, and asked her not to tell her parents what had happened, according to the complaint.

The O'Connors claim Cunningham, who became a deputy sheriff in 2008, had a history of complaints for improper actions, including improper traffic stops, harassment, rudeness, and failure to operate a vehicle in a safe and lawful manner.

Though the sheriff's office dismissed most of the previous complaints, it fired Cunningham in August 2012 after this incident, according to the complaint.

"Deputy Cunningham was eventually arrested for one count of official misconduct and three counts of unlawful photographing of a minor in violation of privacy," according to the complaint. (Citations to Tennessee law omitted.)

The O'Connors seek punitive damages for constitutional violations, trespass, assault and battery, false arrest, negligence, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They are represented by Andrew Clarke of Memphis.

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