BRISTOL, Tenn. – Former Bristol, Tennessee Principal Jerry Poteat is asking a judge to over-turn a state Department of Children's Services decision that he was the “perpetrator” in a vali-dated case of child abuse or neglect.
Former Holston View Principal Jerry Poteat, who was accused of locking a 5-year-old student outside the school in January 2015 in 27-degree weather, was charged with one felony count of attempted child abuse and one misdemeanor count of attempted child neglect. He pleaded not guilty and the charges were dismissed in March 2016 because the “wording was insufficient.”
On July 27, 2016, DCS Administrative Judge Carol G. Marcum signed a final order saying Poteat was the substantiated perpetrator against the child and his name was placed on the Tennessee Child Abuse Registry.
Chattanooga, Tennessee attorney Kathy Rowell, a child welfare specialist, represents Poteat. She filed a petition for review in Sullivan County Chancery on Sept. 23, 2016, that said Poteat’s rights were violated because the finding wasn’t supported by evidence.
According to Tennessee law, a report against an alleged perpetrator shall be classified as “substantiated” if the evidence, in light of the entire record, proves the person committed abuse, severe child abuse, child sexual abuse, or neglect, the petition states.
During a hearing in Bristol Tuesday, Rowell told Chancery Court Judge E.G. Moody the find-ings were made unlawfully because 64 of 142 pages were missing from the file used to make the decision.
“DCS has made a proverbial mountain out of a molehill that caused Jerry to lose the ability to support his family, work as an educator and be branded as a child abuser by people in the town,” she said. “And I can’t believe that this man with an unblemished record has been placed on the Tennessee Child Abuse Registry.”
DCS Assistant General Counsel Nicholas Farma admitted that the pages were lost.
“No action was taken on the case for over a year,” he said. “During that time, parts of the rec-ords were lost. That left us [DCS] with the task of trying to recreate the records. And I think we’ve done our best to recreate the records and the best I can do is apologize for the state of the records.”
Farma also said it’s up to the court to determine if Marcum’s verdict was rendered on the conduct of a person rather than the law, not to reweigh the evidence.
“The final decision was made on the testimony of the CAC [Children’s Advocacy Center] Fo-rensic Interviewer Amy Whitt-Bachman and Polly Yarling [CAC licensed clinical social worker],” he said. “Ms. Yarling testified that the child exhibited certain symptoms of adjustment disorder that the child was able to relate to the treatment she received at the hands of Mr. Poteat. All of the information is clearly documented and is in the final order.”
The petition also says that Poteat’s constitutional rights were violated.
Bristol, Tennessee attorney Frank Slaughter Jr., who also represents Poteat, said the proce-dural errors and mishaps by DCS violated his client’s 14th Amendment rights. The 14th Amend-ment states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
“Everybody’s got a personal right to work,” he said. “He’s a licensed professional – a teacher – and we’re terminating his professional right to work without preponderance of evidence.”
Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Erin Shackelford said no due process was violated by DCS.
“Mr. Poteat was provided adequate due process according to the law,” Shackelford said. “Due process is flexible … and the court should hold that due process was not violated.”
Moody, who said he’s concerned about the missing pages, did not make a ruling because he said he needs time to review the transcripts.
“This is a difficult record and pages are missing,” he said. “It will take quite a bit of time to re-view.”