On Thursday, June 13, 2024, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that a civil rights lawsuit had been filed against Meigs County General Sessions Judge Casey Stokes, Sheriff Jackie Melton, probation officer Carol Petitt, and Deputy Ben Christian. The lawsuit alleges various constitutional violations stemming from an incident in May 2023 involving plaintiff Hannah Ashbrook.

According to the complaint, Ashbrook was visiting the Meigs County Courthouse on May 11, 2023, to handle some private business when she stopped in the hallway to ask Deputy Christian for directions. The lawsuit states that Judge Stokes then abruptly emerged from an alcove and ordered Ashbrook to provide a urine sample in the public restroom for a drug test. Stokes reportedly announced to those in the hallway that he “guaranteed she would be dirty.”

With Christian blocking the bathroom door, Petitt is accused of forcing Ashbrook to produce a sample within 30 seconds during a verbal countdown. Ashbrook maintains she had no reason to be drug tested and was not given an explanation for Stokes’ demand. After Petitt declared the sample positive without having it properly analyzed, Christian immediately handcuffed Ashbrook inside the restroom. Stokes then sentenced her to 10 days in jail on the spot for direct contempt.

However, Ashbrook claims she had not been inside the courtroom that day or on trial for any charges. The lawsuit states she was denied her constitutional rights to legal counsel, a preliminary hearing, and due process. Ashbrook also alleges she was unlawfully detained, searched, and arrested without probable cause. No Miranda rights were reportedly read to her before the coerced drug test either.

The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages and an order requiring Meigs County officials to adopt policies preventing similar constitutional violations going forward. Mayor Eddie Jewell and Sheriff Melton’s attorney declined to comment, citing pending litigation. However, Stokes’ lawyer Matthew Rogers disputed key facts of Ashbrook’s account, asserting she had been disruptive in Stokes’ courtroom that day and agreed to the drug test.

If the allegations prove true, the incident would represent the latest controversy involving Judge Stokes. In January 2023, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct issued a public reprimand against Stokes relating to a separate 2022 case where he verbally abused a disabled litigant and her family in court. The reprimand cited a previous warning about Stokes’ lack of self-control and use of intemperate language on the bench.

The lawsuit argues Stokes has effectively made himself the “boss” of the Meigs County Courthouse through a custom of verbally directing law enforcement and staff without oversight. It maintains any reasonable judge would have known detaining and searching Ashbrook under the described circumstances violated her constitutional rights.

 

 

Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press