BY KEN LITTLE
Former Greene County sheriff's Deputy Robbie Morgan entered a guilty plea Tuesday in federal court to deprivation of rights under the color of law in connection with an encounter he had last Christmas Day with a woman while on duty.
In so doing, Morgan admitted to participating in a consensual sexual act with the woman in exchange for not arresting her on a drug possession charge, according to the plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
Morgan, 40, was on duty when the incident occurred. Magistrate Judge Dennis Inman set a sentencing date of April 2, 2013 for Morgan.
By entering the guilty plea to the misdemeanor offense, Morgan is subject to a jail sentence of up to one year, supervised release of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000.
Morgan, who resigned from the Sheriff's Department on March 8 after it became known that an FBI investigation focusing on him was under way, had no comment as he left the courtroom.
OTHER CASES PENDING
Morgan also has a criminal case pending in Greene County and two civil lawsuits pending in U.S. District Court.
On Monday, he entered a not guilty plea in General Sessions Court to a charge of theft under $500 in connection with the same incident on Christmas Day last year that prompted the federal criminal charge.
Morgan's full name is Robert Lee Morgan II, of Old Mountain Road.
Court documents related to his guilty plea Tuesday state that Morgan, "while acting under the color of law, did willfully deprive a woman, 'E.D.,' of rights, privileges, and immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to wit, the sexual mistreatment of 'E.D.,' thereby willfully depriving her of the right to bodily integrity protected by the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution."
In a civil lawsuit filed in federal court in July, plaintiff Elizabeth Davis alleges Morgan, while on duty as a deputy sheriff and acting "under the color of law," violated her federal civil rights through "assault, battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress."
During the plea hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Morgan answered affirmatively to a series of questions by Magistrate Judge Inman.
He told the judge he understood he could be sentenced to up to one year in jail on the misdemeanor criminal conviction, and be fined up to $100,000.
"Do you wish to proceed with the plea of guilty?" Inman asked.
"Yes, sir," Morgan responded.
Morgan's lawyer, Guy W. Blackwell, said Morgan had agreed with prosecutors to plead guilty to the misdemeanor offense in August, but it took several months to reach agreement on the "exact language" of the plea.
Morgan told Inman he agreed the facts as stated in the plea agreement are truthful.
"Given the defendant's agreement to plead guilty, the United States will not oppose a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility," the plea agreement states.
DETAILS OF PLEA
The plea agreement states that Morgan was on duty as a Greene County sheriff's deputy on Dec. 25, 2011.
He was driving a marked patrol car in the early morning hours and had just completed a business check at the Valero Market at the intersection of the 107 Cutoff and Jones Bridge Road.
He saw a Honda sedan make a left-hand turn from the 107 Cutoff onto Greystone Road, the court document states.
The car was being driven at a speed over the posted limit before it "slowed quickly and turned into a driveway," the plea states.
Morgan followed, and notified the Sheriff's Department dispatcher "he was checking out a suspicious vehicle."
A person got out of the car and went to the front door of a house. Meanwhile, the driver moved to the passenger seat of the car "in an apparent attempt to make it appear as though he had not been driving," the document states.
Morgan approached the man, referred to in the plea agreement as "J.P." He determined J.P. "had been drinking and driving the car on a suspended license," and handcuffed him and placed him in the back seat of the patrol car.
Morgan found the car's owner was Elizabeth Davis and during a car search, found half of a pill in a cigarette wrapper.
Davis claimed the pill was not hers, and Morgan made her empty the contents of her purse and pockets "and put the items, including cash, on the front seat in the Sheriff's Department car," the plea agreement states.
MEETING SPOT SET
The document states that Davis told Morgan "she would do whatever she had to do not to go to jail" and was told by Morgan to meet him at the nearby Valero Market.
Morgan left with the handcuffed man and let him out of the car near the intersection of Greystone Road and Camp Creek Road "without charging him with an offense," the document states.
About 10 minutes after the first stop, Morgan returned to the Valero Market, where he told Davis to follow him to a nearby power substation, "which was more remote, which she did," the plea agreement states.
When they arrived, Morgan told Davis to get in the front seat of the patrol car. He then drove to the back of the power substation "and directed [Davis] to the rear seat of the car."
"After [Davis] got into the back seat, Morgan got in and at Morgan's direction, [Davis] performed oral sex on Morgan," the plea agreement states.
Davis was then allowed to retrieve her cell phone and driver license, return to her car, and leave.
"Morgan retained some of the cash that he seized. [Davis] was not charged with any offense," the document states.
An affidavit of complaint signed by FBI Special Agent Jeffery Blanton in connection with the theft-under-$500 state charge filed against Morgan states that on Dec. 25, 2011, Morgan "did exercise control" of $280 belonging to Davis without her consent.
"Mr. Morgan was on duty at the time as a deputy of the Greene County Sheriff's Department and the victim was a passenger in the vehicle Mr. Morgan had pulled over for a traffic stop," the report said.
Morgan "did willfully and intentionally take the money from the victim without legal reason to do so," the report said.
He will appear Feb. 22 at a preliminary hearing in Greene County General Sessions Court on the state charge of theft under $500.
Morgan had been employed as a deputy sheriff since early 1998 until his resignation in March.
He was elected by the Greene County Commission in 2005 to fill the unexpired term of 3rd Commission District Commissioner Jim Eagle after Eagle died in office. Morgan ran for a full term as commissioner in 2010 but was not elected.
Greene County Sheriff Steve Burns said Tuesday his office fully cooperated with federal authorities during the investigation of Morgan.
"Certainly, I don't condone any conduct like that by any officer. Based on the investigation and the case, he no longer works here," Burns said
"We have an outstanding department, and we have officers who do an outstanding job for the citizens of this county, so hopefully we can move forward and do our job."
Morgan remains free on $20,000 unsecured bond on the federal criminal charge.
CONDITIONS OF RELEASE
Morgan will be monitored by the U.S. Probation Office in Greeneville prior to sentencing April 2.
"The defendant understands that the sentence in this case will be determined by the court after it receives the pre-sentence report from the United States Probation Office and any information presented by the parties," the plea agreement states.
Morgan's conditions of release include that he not violate any law before sentencing, does not change his address or telephone number without informing probation officials, that he appear in court as scheduled, maintain current employment as a livestock farmer, not use alcohol "to excess" or illegal drugs, and not possess a firearm until after he is sentenced.
The offense of deprivation of rights under the color of law is a misdemeanor.
"As a result of this conviction, so far as I know, it will not impair your ability to carry a weapon," Inman said.
NO CONTACT WITH VICTIMS
Another condition of release is that Morgan not have any contact with the alleged victims "or any convicted felon," Inman said.
Davis, sitting in court with a member of the law office of Tony G. Lee Jr., the lawyer representing her in the civil lawsuit, slowly nodded her head in approval as Inman detailed the ban on Morgan having any contact with her.
Violation of any of the release conditions will result in Morgan being held in jail until he is sentenced, Inman said.
Roger Woolsey, Greene County attorney, was also in court. The county is named as a defendant in the two civil lawsuits.
Woolsey was asked how Morgan's guilty plea in the criminal case might affect the outcome of the civil cases.
"That's what I'm going to check out," Woolsey said.
Morgan remains the defendant, along with Greene County, in two pending civil lawsuits.
In Davis' lawsuit relating to the traffic stop on Dec. 25, 2011, she claims Morgan forced her into an unsolicited sexual act in his Greene County Sheriff's Department car.
The lawsuit asks the court for a financial judgment of $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Morgan and the county "for lost wages, future lost wages, present and future medical payments, and pain and suffering."
The lawsuit states that the county government is being sued because Greene County was Morgan's employer at the time of the alleged on-duty violation of Davis' rights "and was under notice that Robbie Morgan had engaged in previous controversial behavior which was illegal and unconstitutional."
The civil action claims Greene County failed "to properly supervise Robbie Morgan, [and the county] implicitly authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of Robbie Morgan against [Davis]."
The second lawsuit, filed in October in U.S. District Court, names Morgan and Greene County as defendants in a civil action alleging violation of the federal civil rights of a woman Morgan allegedly abused while on duty.
Plaintiff Kathy Ann Jennings seeks $2 million in damages "for present and future medical and therapeutic treatment, and pain and suffering in the form of compensatory and punitive damages," the lawsuit states.
That lawsuit alleges "deprivation of [Jennings'] civil rights for the illegal assault and battery against [her] which intentionally caused her severe emotional distress."
The alleged events that prompted the Jennings lawsuit happened on Feb. 14, 2012, and stemmed from an investigation by Morgan of an automobile accident involving Jennings and her son, Brent.
"After Deputy Morgan joined the Sheriff's Department, he had hassled Brent on a couple of occasions, including one incident where Deputy Morgan inappropriately touched a woman that Brent was with during an unwarranted search of her body," the lawsuit claims.
In his encounter with Kathy Ann Jennings on Feb. 14, the lawsuit claims that Morgan appeared "angry and agitated" before he "abruptly slammed [Jennings'] head against the rear passenger side window of the patrol car and began to pat her down very roughly."
"While one hand held her tightly against the car, he ran his hands up and down her legs, and very deliberately, with great force, jammed his hand high up into her groin area, so that it made her involuntarily jump in place," the lawsuit states.
Morgan has denied wrongdoing in both civil lawsuits.
Both Jennings' and Davis' lawsuits are in the discovery phase.