Lawsuit filed against HCSO deputies in traffic stop baptism
Two Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies have been named in a multi-million dollar lawsuit, filed by a woman who claims a deputy pressured her to let him baptize her during a traffic stop.
The 26-page lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Hamilton County's Circuit Court and names the county along with Deputies Daniel Wilkey and Jacob Goforth.
Wilkey is also at the center of another multi-million dollar suit where a man claims he conducted an illegal cavity search on him during a traffic stop in July.
Attorney Robin Flores is representing both of the plaintiffs in these cases. He told Channel 3 he believes the county is responsible for not holding deputies like Wilkey accountable.
"We suspect that this is a pattern of behavior that we're alleging in our complaint," said Flores.
He says Shandle Marie Riley's first, fourth and fourteenth amendment rights were violated in February of this year during a late-night traffic stop.
"This is to her...a sexual assault," Flores said of his client.
According to the lawsuit, the traffic stop started with Deputy Wilkey searching Riley's car and body for drugs.
"Mr. Wilkey encountered Ms. Riley at a gas station and followed her to a residence where she was going to drop in and see her son," he explained.
"The officer searches her illegally, searches the vehicle illegally, fondles her," he described.
The complaint states the stop ended with Wilkey stripping down to his boxers and coercing Riley to be baptized in the freezing waters of Soddy Lake.
"(He) tells her I'll baptize you, you won't go to jail," Flores explained of the allegations. "Wilkey invites Ms. Riley to strip down, she declines. He grabs her one hand to the back, the other on the breast, submerges her in the water."
The complaint accuses a second deputy, Jacob Goforth, of standing by and watching.
It also states Goforth failed to report the incident after it happened.
"Goforth does nothing to intervene. He laughs and he's smirking at her," Flores said.
Flores told Channel 3 he believes the overall issue is a lack of oversight from both Sheriff Jim Hammond and the county.
"The conduct of these deputies is a result of a policy of the county...in other words lax oversight from the sheriff," Flores continued.
Flores says there is video of the incident. They've filed a formal request to preserve all video related to the case.
By law, the county has 33 days to respond and produce those records.
We reached out to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the Hamilton County Attorney for comment but both have declined.
HCSO spokesman Matt Lea sent the following in response to our request:
"As your questions are relative to potential litigation. Please contact Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor's Office for any questions you may have."
County Attorney Rheubin Taylor responded to our request saying:
"Hamilton County will have no comments to make on these pending litigations."
Wilkey remains on paid leave pending the results of the investigation into the July 2019 traffic stop involving a cavity search.