Says Charges Are
Not True; Sheriff
Says Dept. Will
BY KEN LITTLE
A lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Greeneville names former sheriff's Deputy Robert "Robbie" 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.
The legal action, filed by Greeneville lawyer Tony G. Lee Jr. on behalf of Jennings, claims "assault, battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress."
The lawsuit is the second filed in recent months by female plaintiffs claiming abuse at the hands of Morgan, who resigned from the Sheriff's Department in March and is the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
In an interview Friday, Morgan's attorney, Thomas L. Kilday, said the charges in the first lawsuit were not accurate.
Kilday said that he had not had a chance to review the charges in the Jennings lawsuit fully, but that the allegations in that suit would also be denied.
Sheriff Steve Burns said Friday that he finds the allegations in the Jennings lawsuit "incredible," and he asked the public to reserve judgment until the county and the department have the opportunity to defend themselves in court.
The Sheriff's Department will defend the charges against the department in both suits, Burns said.
'ILLEGAL ASSAULT AND BATTERY'
The civil suit alleges "deprivation of [Jennings'] civil rights for the illegal assault and battery against [her] which intentionally caused her severe emotional distress."
It states that on Feb. 14, Morgan was dispatched to Jennings' home to investigate a vehicle accident that happened earlier that day.
Jennings car "had been run over by a raised truck with extra large tires," the lawsuit said.
Morgan asked Jennings to come outside to his patrol car.
During the investigation, the lawsuit states, Morgan became aware that Jennings' son, Brent, was the same person he had "hassled" on "a couple of occasions," including one incident where Morgan "inappropriately touched a woman that [the son] was with during an unwarranted search of her body."
On Feb. 14, Morgan called Brent Jennings over "and began interrogating him regarding the wreck," the lawsuit states, appearing "angry and agitated."
Morgan directed Kathy Lee Jennings to stand by the patrol car, according to the suit.
ALLEGED ACTIONS DETAILED
The lawsuit alleges:
He [Morgan] "abruptly slammed Ms. 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 hands high up into her groin area, so that it made her involuntarily jump in place."
At that, Jennings loudly told Morgan, "Robbie, you shouldn't touch me like that," the lawsuit states.
Jennings' son, who is physically much larger than the deputy, "put his hands behind his head and yelled at Morgan" to stop, the complaint states.
"Morgan spun Ms. Jennings around, continuing to stare down Brent, and with his free hand, grabbed Ms. Jennings fully in her groin, cupping her most private area for a few seconds. He ordered Brent to get further away, then harshly handcuffed the horrified Ms. Jennings, and placed her in the back of the patrol car," the lawsuit claims.
After Kathy Jennings was taken to the Sheriff's Department, she spoke with several members of the Sheriff's Department, offering her version of events that took place.
"She received a call from a Greene County Sheriff's Department telephone number, and the man on the line identified himself as being with the FBI, and said that Robbie Morgan had resigned," the lawsuit said.
The caller asked Jennings if she "would care to give a statement," the complaint states.
Jennings "was suspicious and scared, thinking that it was not the FBI, that it may be part of a cover-up, and refused to give a statement," the complaint continues.
The lawsuit states that Jennings thought Morgan had resigned, and she had no knowledge of other sexual assault allegations and a federal criminal investigation taking place until she read about another lawsuit naming Morgan and Greene County that was filed in July.
After being "groped" by Morgan in February, the lawsuit states, Jennings "sought out therapeutic relief because of the severe emotional distress caused by Deputy Morgan's assault against her, and the apparent immunity that Deputy Morgan seems to have for his controversial behavior."
The lawsuit alleges that the Sheriff's Department "was under notice that Deputy Morgan has a reputation for violence against the public while on and off duty as a deputy sheriff."
Jennings "reasonably believes that Greene County, through the Greene County Sheriff's Department, has actively concealed the numerous controversial and unconstitutional conduct of Deputy Morgan," and not properly recorded complaints against him or documented previous inquiries into past alleged illegal conduct, the complaint states.
Greene County also failed to monitor a dashboard camera installed in Morgan's patrol car, "and compare it to his reported and unreported interactions" with people while on duty, the lawsuit claims.
Greene County failed "to properly supervise" Morgan "to prevent his misconduct," the suit states.
A report filed by Morgan in relation to the Feb. 14 incident said that Jennings was charged with filing a false report after giving law enforcement officers misleading information about a motor vehicle accident.
Kathy A. Jennings, then 59, of Woodside Drive, "reported she was the driver of the vehicle involved when, in fact, she was not involved in the accident," Morgan's report said.
Lee said the criminal case was dropped by Greene County and Jennings' record "was expunged."
In a lawsuit filed July 18, plaintiff Elizabeth Davis alleged that 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."
The incident allegedly occurred early on Christmas morning, Dec. 25, 2011, after Morgan had pulled over a car in which Davis was a passenger and had taken the intoxicated driver of the car, a man identified only as "Jesse," to another unspecified location.
Davis claims that 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 the 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 suit claims Greene County's 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 alleged assault took place, according to the lawsuit, in a secluded area near the four-way intersection of the Jones Bridge Road and the 107 Cutoff, in southern Greene County.
The lawsuit states she was sexually assaulted in the back seat of Morgan's police cruiser although she was "crying and begging him to stop and to not make her do anything, and to let her leave."
Attorney Lee represents Davis in the case.
MORGAN'S ATTORNEY RESPONDS
Greeneville lawyer Thomas Kilday, who represents Morgan in both the Jennings case and the Davis lawsuit, said Friday afternoon that he has not had a chance to fully review the allegations made by Jennings.
When an answer is filed in federal court, "The allegations made will be denied," Kilday said.
Kilday filed a response in August on behalf of Morgan to the allegations made by Davis in her lawsuit.
Morgan claims that he had "consensual oral sex" with Davis after she "voluntarily" got in the back of Morgan's Sheriff's Department car.
"It is denied there was any 'sexual assault' upon the plaintiff," Kilday's answer in response to Lee's complaint states.
Morgan "admits that the circumstances surrounding the interaction between the plaintiff and this defendant could be viewed as this defendant depriving the plaintiff of her rights under the color of law, although it is denied that the plaintiff suffered any injury from the parties' consensual sexual encounter," the answer states.
RESIGNED IN MARCH
Morgan, 39, of the Camp Creek community, resigned from the Sheriff's Department on March 8 after it became known that an FBI investigation focusing on him was under way.
At the time of his resignation, he had been employed as a deputy sheriff since early 1998.
Morgan 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.
Sheriff Burns said in a statement released at the time of Morgan's resignation that he was informed "of an allegation of misconduct by [Morgan]" that was referred to federal authorities for investigation, "in which the Sheriff's Department is cooperating fully."
Although the FBI investigation continues, Morgan has not been charged with any criminal offense.
Burns said after the July lawsuit was filed, speaking on behalf of the Sheriff's Department and the county government, "We deny all of the allegations against Greene County and the Greene County Sheriff"s Department."
RESPONSE TO LATEST LAWSUIT
Sheriff Burns said Friday that allegations against the county and the Sheriff's Department included in the Jennings lawsuit are not factual, particularly actions allegedly committed by Morgan in the front yard of Jennings' home, in full view of neighbors and the public.
"We deny the allegations against the county and against the Sheriff's Department, and quite frankly, I find it incredible that any officer would commit the acts alleged in this lawsuit," Burns said.
"As always, I would ask that citizens reserve judgment on all of these lawsuits. I look forward to defending them, and I look forward to having a reasonable outcome on all of them," Burns said.
County Attorney Roger Woolsey did not return telephone calls Thursday and Friday seeking comment on the Jennings lawsuit.
STATEMENT ALLEGED, DENIED
Burns said that Lee relocated to Greeneville from Florida several years ago, and had told others he will "retire" on the money he makes from lawsuits pending against Greene County.
Lee also represents former Greene County jail inmate Dustin Riedel, who seeks $3 million in damages from the county in connection with a severe beating he received in September 2011 from two other inmates.
On Friday, Lee emphatically denied making any statement similar to the one referred to by Burns.
"The sheriff is lashing out because he is wrong," Lee said.
"I don't like the idea of going against my home county, or the county that I love and where I've chosen to make my home.
"But when behavior is so egregious and the county has failed to protect people, then attorneys are faced with the decision to represent people who are wronged."
The Jennings lawsuit claims Morgan was the frequent topic of discussion in closed executive sessions of the County Commission's Insurance Committee, whose members discuss pending claims.
Morgan, in his capacity as a deputy sheriff, and the Sheriff's Department were the targets of a separate $1 million federal civil lawsuit filed by Paul Joseph Houseman, of Chuckey, in 2007.
Houseman charged in his lawsuit that, when Morgan was at Houseman's home investigating a complaint about cars being parked on a neighbor's property without permission, Morgan struck Houseman in the head with a heavy Sheriff's Department flashlight, knocking him to the ground, fracturing his skull and giving him lacerations.
Lee, who represented Houseman, said recently that the case was eventually closed through a negotiated settlement. Terms were not made public.