published Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Niota officers could return; council to discuss Scott, McCarter at Monday meeting

Jonathan Scott, from left, and Keith McCarter are Niota, Tenn., police officers suspended after being indicted for beating a motorist they were arresting.
Jonathan Scott, from left, and Keith McCarter are Niota, Tenn., police officers suspended after being indicted for beating a motorist they were arresting.

Officials in Niota, Tenn., will discuss Monday whether two suspended police officers will go back to work now that criminal charges against them have been dropped, the city's mayor said Friday.

Sgt. Keith McCarter and Patrolman Jonathan Scott were suspended in April 2012 after they were charged with official oppression and conspiracy to commit official oppression against McMinn County resident Ray Stewart.

Scott's attempt to stop Stewart's scooter outside the town limits in June 2011 ended in a beating that left Stewart with a gashed skull, broken collarbone and other injuries. A raft of traffic charges against him was dismissed in court.

McCarter and Scott stood trial this week but on Friday, early in the defense case, the special prosecutor made a motion to dismiss charges with prejudice, which means the case can't be resurrected.

Mayor Lois Preece said the officers would have been terminated had they been found guilty.

"They were not found guilty, so the suspension should be lifted" and the two put back to work, Preece said.

She said the Niota City Council will discuss putting McCarter and Scott back to work at a special meeting Monday at 7 p.m.

Court records and newspaper archives show the incident began June 11, 2011, when Scott, so new on the Niota police force that he had not yet been sworn in, attempted to pull over Stewart outside the city limits. Stewart, who was riding a small scooter, pulled into the driveway of his nearby residence. He told Scott the officer was out of his jurisdiction and went in the building. Scott called for backup, and he and McCarter went into the residence. They said Stewart resisted arrest, and McCarter used a wrestling move to slam him to the ground.

During trial this week, Stewart complained that someone flattened a tire on his van by slashing the valve stem. Friday, he said he was trying to take a picture of a man and a truck in a city parking lot that matched a witness' description of the slasher. But, he said, a juror saw him and told other jurors Stewart was videotaping their cars in the parking lot, an allegation he denied.

Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy could have declared a mistrial, but special prosecutor Joe Baugh instead asked that the charges be dismissed, and Reedy did so.

Baugh did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Neither did Charles C. Burks Jr., McCarter's attorney.

Andrew Freiberg, attorney for Scott, said he was happy with the decision.

"Sometimes opinions are formed based upon partial information," Freiberg said. "I'm so thankful we have a system where both sides can be heard and truth can come to light. Anyone who was present for this trial knows this to be the correct and righteous outcome."

Stewart said Friday he hopes there will be a federal investigation, and that the end of the criminal case allows his civil lawsuits in state and federal court to go forward.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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