CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) – As the lawsuit tells it, a teenage girl identified as K.G.J. watched from the car as the sheriff’s deputy searched her lifelong friend in a cold April rain, groping and fondling the teen. On her face was a look of terror.
“He’s not supposed to do this, is he?” the 16-year-old named A.O.K. in the complaint filed Monday asked K.G.J.
No, replied K.G.J. But the deputy, Daniel Cameron Wilkey, interjected.
“Shut the fuck up,” he allegedly said. “You don’t know your rights.”
Six teenagers including K.G.J. had been riding in a vehicle on April 18 when they were pulled over by two deputies with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office on the grounds that the factory-installed windows violated Tennessee’s laws regarding window tints.
Wilkey, 5-foot-8 with hazel eyes, claimed he smelled weed and started searching the teens.
The other deputy, Tyler McRae, prevented the teen from calling their parents and ordered them to face forward and keep their hands on their laps, according to the complaint filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court.
Watching the deputy touch her friend and waiting to be searched, K.G.J. claims she thought the men that stopped them were sex traffickers dressed up as cops.
Eventually, the deputies arrested the 16-year-old driver of the vehicle and let one teen boy walk away from the traffic stop. But before leaving the remaining teenage girls, Wilkey told them he was a preacher, the complaint states.
“You kids are going to hell,” he allegedly said.
Eight months later, on Friday morning, Wilkey, 26, sat in the second row of a crowded Hamilton County courtroom in downtown Chattanooga wearing a grey suit, grey and dark-red tie to hear a 44-count indictment on charges that range from reckless driving to stalking to sexual battery and rape.
None of the 44 counts have to do with the traffic stop in April, although the five teenage girls represented by Chattanooga civil rights attorney Robin Flores told a federal magistrate judge this week he is setting up interviews between his clients and state and county investigators.
Wilkey got up from where he was sitting next to two women to stand next to attorney Ben McGowan, who asked Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman to postpone his arraignment until Jan. 24 so Wilkey can officially hire McGowan as his counsel in the case. The judge agreed.
Wilkey, followed by fellow officers in uniform, left the courtroom and got into an elevator. With that, he ended his first appearance in court.
In the last two months, Wilkey and Hamilton County, where he has worked for two years as a sheriff deputy, has been named in nine civil lawsuits. In early October, one complaint alleged he performed an illegal cavity search on a handcuffed man. Another civil suit filed around the same time claims Wilkey told a woman on whom he found a small amount of marijuana he would only issue her a criminal citation if she allowed him to baptize her.
In a press conference Monday, Dr. Elnora Woods, president of the Chattanooga chapter of the NAACP, described the allegation that Wilkey felt that God told him to baptize the woman as “satanic practices.”
“He’s not a minister that I know of,” she said. “Any type of ritual or practice that’s not of God is satanic,” she said.
Woods added the local NAACP is looking into ways of removing Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond.
A spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and attorneys with the county declined to comment.
Wilkey was arrested Dec. 10 and released on a $25,000 bond. On Monday, attorney Flores filed suits on behalf of three teenage girls involved in the April traffic stop: K.G.J, A.O.K. and A.M., alleging Wilkey violated their civil rights.
In the case of A.M., Flores also named an investigator that filed charges against the 16-year-old for filing a false report. While the charge was dropped, the way the investigator interviewed the teen, Flores argued, amounted to intimidation.
“The hiring of Wilkey as a deputy was tantamount to unleashing a monster upon the citizens of Hamilton County and upon the plaintiff,” Flores wrote in the lawsuits.
Flores also filed a suit Monday on behalf of a woman who claimed Wilkey began unlawfully stopping and searching her, which first began in 2017 when she was taking a smoke break outside a Walmart where she worked. During the searches, the lawsuit said, Wilkey would often touch her nipples and crotch and order her to expose her breasts.
He allegedly showed up at where the woman was staying one night and shined a light in her window. Wilkey falsely told the woman’s mother he had an arrest warrant to serve, according to the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, a man filed another complaint alleging Wilkey stopped his vehicle on March 30. After handcuffing the man and frisking him, Wilkey allegedly slid his hand into the man’s pants and fondled his genitals.
Four counts in the 44-count indictment have to do with Wilkey’s alleged interaction with the man.
The man, represented by lawyers with the Chattanooga firm Cavett, Abbott and Weiss, asked for his case to be certified as a class action lawsuit. “Well over” 50 people are victims of physical and sexual assaults by Wilkey, the suit claims.
Already, some of the civil cases have been transferred to the federal courthouse in the art deco building a few blocks down the hill from the state courthouse.
Later Friday morning, three attorneys representing Hamilton County, McRae and Wilkey asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger to extend the time they have to answer a complaint until the criminal proceedings are over in order to protect the deputy’s right against self-incrimination. Attorneys estimated the wait for the criminal proceeding to conclude could last six months to two years.
One federal case involved C.P.S., a 14-year-old girl who was riding in the vehicle Wilkey and McRae stopped in April.
“I’m going to ask if you can see the irony in this,” Steger told attorney James Guster, who represents Wilkey in the civil proceeding.
The deputies, the judge said, could not wait to take a teenage boy also traveling in the car down to the police station to search him and instead ordered him to strip to his boxers along the side of the road.
Now, the deputy “wants to slow-walk this lawsuit so his rights can be protected,” Steger said.
Saying he would issue a written opinion, the magistrate said he would let the attorneys get through the holidays but the defendants would be required to answer the suit.