Lawsuit: Woman’s civil rights violated by cops, 2-year-old son burned while in police care

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An Alabama woman arrested for traffic violations last year has sued two Tennessee law enforcement agencies, claiming her civil rights were violated and that her young son was horribly burned while in police custody.

Tracy Marie Garth, 34, of Decatur, filed a $2.5 million lawsuit in April against the Franklin Police Department, the Williamson County Sheriff's Office, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) and employees of all three agencies. The Decatur Daily reached out to Garth, who declined to comment on the lawsuit.

According to the Tennessean, which obtained a copy of the lawsuit, Garth alleges that she was kept in jail for two weeks without being allowed to make a phone call or post bail. Tennessee law requires that new jail inmates be allowed to make a phone call within an hour of their booking, the newspaper said.

The lawsuit states that Garth was driving to Nashville with her two children just after midnight on April 25, 2016, when she stopped at a gas station off Interstate 65 in Franklin. While there, she was approached by a Franklin police officer.

The officer accused her of speeding, passing a dump truck, striking a traffic cone and failing to stop when he tried to pull her over, the Tennessean reported.

The officer also saw that her children were improperly restrained in the vehicle, the lawsuit states. Garth was arrested and charged with three counts of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, two counts of evading arrest, driving on closed roads, speeding, improper passing, failing to stop at a red light and two counts of violating the child restraint system.

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Garth was taken to the Williamson County Jail and her children were taken to the Franklin Police Department, the lawsuit says. They were in police custody while awaiting a worker from the state DCS, who would take custody of the children.

It was at the police station that Garth’s 2-year-old son was badly burned, suffering injuries that Garth’s lawsuit states she was not made aware of for 16 days.

A graphic photo included in federal court records shows the boy's chin, neck and chest, all burned, and several patches of missing skin on his chest. Petroleum jelly appears to be slathered over the burns. Click here to see the photo.

Milissa Reierson, a spokeswoman for the city of Franklin, acknowledged the boy's injuries Monday in a statement issued to the media, including WAFF in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Following Garth’s arrest, officers called DCS to assist with caring for Garth’s young children after she was unable to provide contact information for other family or next of kin,” Reierson said in the statement. “While officers were waiting for DCS, one of the children was burned by hot water after pushing a button on a dispenser in the police department break room. Emergency Medical Services were called and the child was transported to Vanderbilt (University Medical Center), treated and released to DCS.”

Reierson went on to state that there are “two sides to every story.”

"In the meantime, we hope that the people whom we serve know how earnestly we care for their rights, their safety, and especially their children," she said.

Garth's lawsuit disputes Reierson's statement, claiming that she provided DCS with the names of 10 family members who could care for the children, the Tennessean reported.

The children were placed in foster care in Tennessee anyway, the suit states.

The lawsuit claims that the DCS protective custody order stated that Garth was driving more than 100 mph with the children unrestrained in her car. Arrest warrants show, however, that Garth was driving 70 mph, just 10 miles over the speed limit.

Garth also argues in the lawsuit that Tennessee DCS did not have the authority to place the children in foster care and that they should have been placed through Alabama’s Department of Human Resources. The children were not returned to Alabama for five months, long after Garth had been released from jail.

The children are currently in their father's care, the Tennessean reported.

Garth also claims in the lawsuit that she was not allowed a phone call for 14 days. A friend drove to the jail from Alabama within hours of that call to post her bail.

The lawsuit states that she was unable to post bond herself because she was not allowed access to her purse, which contained her cash and debit card.

Because she was jailed for two weeks, she lost her job, the suit states. The criminal charges against Garth, who had no prior criminal record, are pending, the Tennessean said.

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