CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) – It began with a lawsuit claiming a sheriff’s deputy in southeast Tennessee played a role in performing an illegal cavity search on a black man during a traffic stop. Then came another complaint alleging the deputy baptized a woman off a boat ramp, saying he would only issue her a ticket if she agreed to it.
On Wednesday, Chattanooga civil rights attorney Robin Flores filed his fourth lawsuit in five weeks that includes Hamilton County Sheriff Deputy Daniel Wilkey as a defendant.
It is the second case asserting civil rights violations after Wilkey allegedly stopped a car with six minors, prevented them from calling their parents, kept the minors in cold rain and groped several of them. The latest complaint was filed on behalf of one of those minors.
When reached by phone, Flores said he would “let the complaint speak for itself,” but added more lawsuits are in the works.
“Wilkey had a non-delegable duty to refrain from searching the plaintiff without probable cause by touching her genitals and breasts in such a manner as to constitutes [sic] a criminal sexual battery,” Wednesday’s 27-page complaint states. “No reasonable law enforcement officer would have acted in this manner.”
The suit names Wilkey, Hamilton County Government and Deputy Tyler McRae as defendants. It alleges in seven counts the officer violated the plaintiff’s civil rights by failing to protect and render aid, engaging in an unreasonable search and seizure, and committing battery and assault.
The complaint asks for $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages for a teenager named only as M.R.S., who was 16 at the time of the April traffic stop.
The suit also alleges the county ignored the complaints M.R.S.’s mother made to the sheriff’s department and instead charged the driver of the vehicle, identified as A.M. in the complaint, with making a false report.
“The ‘investigation’ of A.M.’s complaint was conducted in such a manner as to retaliate against A.M. and to keep her quiet, and by filing a felony charge against A.M. was to send a signal to the other minor victims not to pursue any legal action against Wilkey and McRae,” the complaint states.
According to the lawsuit, Wilkey had followed the car carrying six minors for miles on April 18 before he initiated a stop, claiming he smelled marijuana and the factory-installed windows violated tint laws.
While McRae watched and made sure the minors’ phones were visible and they looked ahead without moving, Wilkey searched them, the complaint says. Wilkey is accused of squeezing M.R.S.’s crotch, breasts and abdomen.
“During this ‘search,’ where Wilkey found nothing on plaintiff, he told plaintiff and the minors that she and her friends were going to hell ‘like your parents;’ that they needed to ‘find Jesus;’ that their parents did not love them and that the children were going ‘nowhere’ in their lives,” the lawsuit states.
One of the girls asked to be searched by a female officer but the officers told her to “shut the f#*k up,” and that she didn’t know the law, according to the lawsuit.
In another lawsuit filed Oct. 17 on behalf of a 14-year-old girl in the vehicle, Flores wrote Wilkey “with both hands reached underneath plaintiff’s bra (through plaintiff’s shirt) and felt the plaintiff’s breasts as he pulled her bra outward and gave the bra a shake.” (Parentheses in original)
Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department – whose headquarters sit in the county seat of Chattanooga — hired Wilkey from a sheriff’s office of a neighboring county after the officer was involved in a “questionable killing” of an unarmed man shot in the head, according to the Oct. 17 complaint.
In a separate lawsuit filed Oct. 1, a woman said she agreed to have Wilkey baptize her because she believed it would keep her out of jail after a traffic stop and search turned up a roach of marijuana. Wilkey asked Shandle Riley if she was saved and told her while he was searching her vehicle he “felt the Lord wanted him to baptize the plaintiff,” the complaint states.
With another officer acting as a witness, Wilkey drove plaintiff to a boat ramp, stripped to his boxer shorts and submerged Riley in waist deep water in February.
That baptism complaint and yet another lawsuit alleging an illegal cavity search have been transferred to federal court.
A spokeswoman with the sheriff’s department referred questions to Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, who declined to comment in part because he had just received a copy of the complaint.
Wilkey, meanwhile, is on administrative leave with pay.