Part 3: Child support violators difficult to track even if they' - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Part 3: Child support violators difficult to track even if they're government employees

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Officer Lee Mayweather returns to his patrol car after speaking with a motorist. Officer Lee Mayweather returns to his patrol car after speaking with a motorist.
The process for revoking a driver's license for non-payment of child support The process for revoking a driver's license for non-payment of child support
What revoked driver's licenses cost Hamilton County taxpayers What revoked driver's licenses cost Hamilton County taxpayers
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - This is the third part in a 3 Investigates series. The team filed more than a dozen Tennessee Open Records Act requests for records as part of the investigation. The investigation exposed a lack of checks at both the state and local level. Chattanooga Police Department ultimately changed its policy on background checks for officers. 

After a city police officer drove a patrol car for more than a year on a suspended license for non-payment of child support, he claimed he was never notified. 

How does the state notify parents? Why would the state allow people to still hold a license if they no longer have driving privileges? Did the police department treat the officer the same as anyone else?

The city knew Officer Lee Mayweather's paychecks would not cover the orders to pay support on his children.

“When Officer Mayweather failed to make child support payments garnished (due to not enough pay,) the city notified the agency that sent the garnishment,” said Lacie Stone, Communications Director for the city of Chattanooga.

Employees sometimes don't have enough to garnish off their check because they have a large amount specified on an order, perhaps have more than one order and often times a portion of that is late payments, she said.

“At that point, the employee is responsible for paying the difference and the city would not be notified if the employee did or did not,” she said.

The city notifies the state. Then the state takes action to revoke the license.

The state does not communicate to the employer if a parent's license is revoked.

“Due to confidentiality, the [parent's] employer is not contacted,” said Devin Stone, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services.

State law imposes a $75 fee if the person does not return the physical copy of the license.

“If stopped by a law enforcement officer and the license has not been surrendered, the officer is authorized to confiscate the license and return [it] to the department,” said Dalya Qualls, spokeswoman for the Department of Safety.

“If or when the $75 surrender fee has been paid, then $25 of the fee is paid to the law enforcement agency.”

A background check on Mayweather shows numerous addresses over the years.

Some parents say that while they may have known they were behind in payments, they did not realize that they their license was revoked.

“Honestly, child support deals with a lot of nomadic people, so it would be likely some people wouldn't get the letter,” said Rachel Brock, court director for Hamilton County Juvenile Court. “Actually I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't complain that they never got the letter.”

Each year, Chattanooga police officers cites thousands of drivers or arrests them on driver's license violations. Chattanooga police wrote 5,660 tickets for city court for driver's license violations last year. As of this month, police officers have already issued 3,436 tickets.

When department officials learned of Mayweather's driver's license status in March 2014, he was never cited. He was never arrested.

When Mayweather said he did not know his license was revoked, a supervisor reminded him to stay in compliance. 

Mayweather patrols a zone in east Chattanooga with shootings and drug deals that cause officers to step up patrol.

Had Mayweather been stopped in a civilian car in civilian clothes he would have likely been arrested.

“No option with driving on revoked or suspended,” said one law enforcement source.

Most people who drive on a revoked or suspended license often say they never received notice, Brock said.

“Although keep in mind I'd be talking to people complaining about their license being revoked, so it's more likely they would say they were unaware of the process,” she said.

Every six months, the state reviews child support cases where a parent's driver's license, professional license, or handgun permit can be suspended for delinquent payments.

To have a license suspended due to non-payment of child support, the parent must have $500 or more owed in back payments for the past three months.

Typically parents are notified through certified mail if their license is about to become suspended or revoked, according to officials.

RELATED LINK | NOTICE OF REVOCATION

A list is compiled and notifications are sent out to parents via certified mail warning them of drivers license revocation. They are issued an administrative court date in Nashville where they can appeal the revocation within 20 days.


"I find it hard to fathom that something like this could fall through the cracks at more than six months at a time.” 

- Sam Mairs, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Administrator


It's possible that Mayweather was unaware of his driving status. It's also hard to prove otherwise. State laws make records regarding child support cases private and not subject to open records requests.

State officials say they cannot revoke a parent's driver's license unless the parent is notified.

“If the [parent] is not reached by certified mail the license cannot be revoked, because the Department would not have met due process criteria,” said Devin Stone, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services.

If a letter is unclaimed it still counts as delivered because, "with each delivery attempt the postal worker gives the [parent] notice that the letter is available for pick-up at the local post office,” she said.

If the post office tells the department that the parent no longer lives at the address, the license is not revoked because notification was never made, Stone said.

Lacie Stone, communications director for the city of Chattanooga, said if a paycheck won't cover a parent's garnishments, then the pay stub reflects that information.The parent does not receive a separate notification. 

The city has a total of 2,851 employees. Of those, 143 employees, or 5 percent, are parents who have their paychecks routinely garnished for child support payments by the state.

Mayweather's paychecks have been garnished since July 2000 when he worked for the city as a firefighter. He is required to make payments to two women in Hamilton County to support children.

Mayweather appeared in child support court on Dec.16 asking to modify the amount in child support, records show.

It's possible that the revocation was never mentioned in the hearing though, according to officials.

“Additionally license revocation would not necessarily be communicated to county juvenile courts,” Devin Stone said.

Even though there are questions about communication between parents, state agencies and their employers, officials contend parents are ultimately responsible for providing for their children and keeping track of the payments.

“I want to stress that child support is his responsibility, and his alone.  It is very important for him to check his pay stubs and see if the correct amount is being paid, and it's his responsibility to make up the difference, if any,” Brock said.

“It's also his responsibility to know how much, if any, he still owes in back child support, and it's his responsibility to take care of child support issues in a timely manner, should things such as a license revocation occur.”

If you know of an issue you want our 3 Investigates team to look into, email newstips@wrcbtv.com. Send us an email with an explanation of your story idea. Include documents and sources for more research. Your tip can remain anonymous. 


In Hamilton County, a third party company, Maximus, holds a contract to provide child support enforcement on behalf of the state in Hamilton County. The contract to provide services in Hamilton County for state fiscal year 2015 is $2,586,206. The company declined to comment for this story and directed comments to the state.

Enforcement services include:

  • Establishing paternity
  • Establishing child support orders
  • Enforcing child support orders
  • Collecting and distributing child support payments

Source: Department of Human Services Spokeswoman Devin Stone

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