Judge ends lawsuit by TN man removed from meeting for griping about tax hike

Circuit Court Judge John McAfee

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit a Fentress County man filed against the county officials who forcibly removed him from a commission meeting after he began complaining about higher property taxes.

Officials representing Circuit Court Judge John McAfee of Tazewell wouldn’t comment on the matter, but David Beaty, who filed the lawsuit, and County Executive Frank Smith, both confirmed the outcome.

McAfee dismissed the suit late last month.

“In court, he (McAfee) said I was the one who broke the law,” Beaty said.

Circuit Court Judge John McAfee

“At the end, he said the county executive had every right to have me arrested. He also said it was shameful the way Frank Smith treated me, though.”

Smith, meanwhile, told Tennessee Watchdog he had no comment on the matter.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me one way or the other. Beaty had me sued. The judge dismissed it. So — great,” Smith said.

Smith and other county officials had hoped McAfee would dismiss the suit.

As previously reported, the incident in which Smith had Beaty removed from chambers was captured on video — as was the prior month’s formal meeting, where Smith called Beatty a “dumbass” for complaining about higher taxes.

An assistant state attorney general was scheduled to attend to argue on Fentress County officials’ behalf, but Beaty’s attorney, David Wigler of Knoxville, didn’t return messages to confirm that.

“The county is saying there is no merit under the constitution for a person to speak to his elected officials, so county officials asked for an attorney general’s opinion on that,” Beatty said in November, adding he and Wigler would take the matter to federal court if the judge dismissed the case.

Beaty, however, didn’t say now if he would carry that threat out.

Beatty was Fentress’ county executive from 1998 to 2002 and ran against Smith in the most recent election.

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, quarrels between county commissioners and their constituents began in 2011, when commissioners raised property taxes by nearly 50 percent to pay for a new jail.

Smith also forced one resident to discontinue filming another commission meeting. Later, Smith and other commissioners severely limited other residents’ opportunities to offer public comment at commission meetings.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported, the tax increase caused major hardships among many county residents. Fentress is considered one of the state’s poorest communities.

According to the lawsuit, Beatty claimed harassment, assault and battery and false arrest against him. He asked for compensatory damages not to exceed $100,000 and punitive damages not to exceed $500,000.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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