TN Court of Appeals rules the defamation case against District Attorney can move forward
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston is facing a defamation lawsuit that will now move forward after a ruling last week by the Tennessee State Court of Appeals.
The ruling means that the lead investigator in the 2015 Ooltewah High School rape case, Gatlinburg Detective Rodney Burns, can proceed with his defamation case against DA Pinkston after two charges of aggravated perjury were leveled at Burns after his testimony in the case.
READ MORE | Continuing Coverage: Ooltewah Assault
The rape occurred at a Gatlinburg cabin when the Ooltewah High School basketball team was playing in a holiday tournament. Three older team members were accused of various roles in the raping of a younger team member with a pool cue, resulting in serious internal injuries to the victim.
Charges against the school officials involved in the case were eventually dismissed through a variety of methods, but federal suits are still in play.
The State of Tennessee argued that "district attorneys general should enjoy absolute immunity, arguing specifically that the absolute privilege would facilitate (1) the need for district attorneys general to communicate while exercising their duties without fear of facing litigation, (2) the public’s right to be informed regarding the prosecution of crimes and the activities of the district attorney’s office, and (3) the need for district attorneys general to focus their time on official duties without spending time defending defamation lawsuits."
The Tennessee State Court of Appeals determined in their ruling that "We hold that the Executive Official Privilege, the absolute privilege afforded to state executive officials for statements made in the course of their official duties, as recognized in Jones v. State, 426 S.W.3d 50 (Tenn. 2013), does not extend to district attorneys general. We therefore affirm the Commission’s judgment in this regard. This case is remanded to the Commission, pursuant to applicable law, for further proceedings consistent with this opinion and collection of costs assessed below. The costs on appeal are assessed against the appellant, the State of Tennessee."
Burns is seeking $300,000 in damages.