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Court reverses decision on citizen barred from council meetings

Xavier Smith • May 2, 2018 at 1:05 PM

The Tennessee Appellate Court handed down a ruling Tuesday that reversed a Wilson County Chancery Court decision previously barred one citizen from Lebanon City Council meetings and other city-owned properties.

The case involved Derek Dodson and former Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead and the city of Lebanon. The city filed a petition under the Tennessee Violence in the Workplace Act against Dodson in 2016 after he was disruptive at several city council meetings.

Wilson County Chancellor C.K. Smith granted a temporary restraining order against Dodson for three years. The order barred Dodson from any council meeting or having any contact with Lebanon officials, as well as from coming within 500 feet of any city-owned property.

After the order was approved, the court held an evidentiary hearing on the city’s request for permanent injunction, which included testimony from Craighead and several city employees.

Craighead said Dodson’s actions, which included hostile remarks and behavior during council meetings, raised safety concerns. He also said some city employees expressed concerns for their own safety in light of Dodson’s behavior, according to court documents.

Two employees testified they observed Dodson driving slowly through a parking lot commonly used by city employees and taking pictures. When approached, Dodson claimed he was photographing because he was a private investigator, and was hired by someone’s spouse because they suspected they were cheating, according to the employee.

A captain with the Lebanon Police Department also testified the department placed extra patrol at Craighead and Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto’s houses.

The captain said he placed the extra patrol after Dodson was arrested in Trousdale County for reckless driving and running into the district attorney general’s office.

The captain attended the majority of the meetings at which Dodson spoke and said he believed Dodson’s behavior at times made him subject to arrest.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Smith ruled the injunctive relief was appropriate and in a written order, granted the city permanent injunction for the statutory maximum of three years because it found Dodson “committed the acts of unlawful violence, stalking and intimidation.”

Dodson appealed the decision, with his issues focused on the propriety of the injunctive relief granted by the trial court.

The appeals court ruled Tuesday it did not “find that Mr. Dodson’s conduct constituted a ‘credible threat of violence,’ and the city did not contest this finding on appeal. So we consider whether there was a clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Dodson ‘engaged in unlawful violence.’”

The court found one instance of stalking, but said stalking requires two or more separate incidents, involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual.

The city also failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence Dodson engaged in unlawful violence or made a credible threat of violence as required for the issuance of an injunction under the Tennessee Violence in the Workplace Act.

The issues resulted reversal of Smith’s judgment in the case.

 

 

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