published Friday, January 31st, 2014

Tennessee drops charge against father

A disorderly conduct charge was dropped Thursday against a Cumberland County, Tenn., parent arrested in mid-November for arguing with a school resource officer over the school’s new pickup policy.

But Jim Howe kind of wishes he could have had his hearing.

“There’s some statements that have been made that we’d like to have a record of, but it’s done and over with now,” Howe said.

In Cumberland County Sessions Court on Thursday, the state made a motion to dismiss the charge because of the lack of a case for disorderly conduct, with an option to reinstate charges later. But Howe’s attorney objected, requesting a complete dismissal under his client’s right to a speedy trial if the state was unable or unwilling to continue with the hearing.

“The state showed some sense and acknowledged that the proof doesn’t support the charge, that Jim’s innocent, and they basically agreed to drop the charge,” said Kyle Mothershead, Howe’s attorney. “I’d say that they didn’t want to have a hearing where Deputy [Avery] Aytes got cross-examined on the record.”

In November, South Cumberland Elementary School began a new pick-up policy for students that Howe said resulted in a backup of traffic into a busy public street. That caused a safety hazard and is against the law, he said.

“We refused to break the law to follow their policy, and we parked off campus, walked in to get the kids, and I was arrested for disorderly conduct for knowing more about the law than the officer they hired,” Howe said. A video of the incident was posted on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 750,000 times.

But the school’s pickup policy has gotten better since the arrest, Howe said.

“They’ve changed the entire deal,” Howe said. “They’ve made it wider. They made it better so that we don’t have that line anymore. They’re doing what they need to do.”

Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Donald Andrews, who has defended both Howe’s arrest and the policy that led to it, did not return a call seeking comment.

“The state Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution, supports exactly what I said it supports: A parent’s right to raising their children and making decisions for their child does not end at the schoolhouse door,” Howe said. “That’s what the state Constitution says, and I stand by that.”

Contact Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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