Former magistrate accused of 'nonconsensual sexual assault'

Teen's mother files federal suit; alleges Dustin Hatcher coerced her daughter

A federal lawsuit alleges that on Dec. 1, then Blount County magistrate Dustin Hatcher coerced a teen girl into his office, forced her to wear lingerie, took pictures of her bare breasts and showed the images to other county employees.

On Dec. 2, a press release from Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher said his son Dustin Hatcher had resigned in light of TBI investigation regarding allegations against him. Since neither Dustin Hatcher nor his father commented on the nature of the allegations in the investigation, the federal suit gave the first glimpse into what the state may be investigating.

The suit was filed at 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, in U.S. District Court in Knoxville by attorney Gregory P. Issacs. The girl and her mother plaintiffs was listed as Jane or Janet Doe and the defendants were former Blount County magistrate/judicial-juvenile commissioner Dustin Hatcher, Blount County government, Blount County Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher and any other unnamed employees in their official or individual capacities.

The suit did not specify when or why the teen had previously been before Dustin Hatcher and what if anything he had done regarding any case involving the teen. The suit said that on Dec. 1, Dustin Hatcher called the girl and ordered her to come to his office. While the suit didn’t state what time this allegedly happened, the suit said that once the girl arrived, Dustin Hatcher placed a sign on the outside of his office door indicating he wasn’t to be disturbed. At this point Dustin Hatcher then allegedly offered the teen perfume and lingerie.

The suit alleged Dustin Hatcher then used his authority to "coerce" the teen into trying on the lingerie. The suit also states that the teen initially refused, and Dustin Hatcher coerced her with statements related to his authority as a county magistrate/judicial and juvenile commissioner. Dustin Hatcher "exhorted compliance with his demands" by telling the teen "‘you owe me" and "you can trust me."

The suit said Dustin Hatcher then took digital photographs of the teen, including her bare breasts when he forced her to remove the lingerie. He then showed the photographs to other employees of Blount County.

The suit also stated that Thomas Hatcher was negligent in hiring Dustin Hatcher for the position of magistrate as he was Thomas Hatcher’s son and "did not have proper qualifications and proper experience." The suit also said Thomas Hatcher failed to properly supervise Dustin Hatcher in his treatment of females and/or female minors.

The suit asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

While the suit claimed that Dustin Hatcher was acting in the course and scope of his employment with the county, Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said that if the allegations were true, Dustin Hatcher was not acting within the scope of his authority.

Cunningham said Saturday, Dec. 16, that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet. "From what I’ve read, certainly acts like that are outside the scope of his employment, and, of course we have policies about sexual harassment."

Regarding the county government as a defendant in the suit, Cunningham said he didn’t think the county had any liability. "I don’t think there any liabilities on the county’s part because acts like that, if true, are outside the scope of his employment."

Cunningham took issue with the lawsuit being filed so soon after the alleged incident.

"This lawsuit was filed before the (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) had completed any investigation," he said. "When I was practicing, I didn’t file lawsuits before an investigation was either done by me or by one of the other government agencies."

Cunningham said he had spoken with the mother of the alleged teen victim in the case as late as Wednesday, and she gave no hint a lawsuit was eminent.

"Interestingly, I’ve talked to the girl’s mother on about three or four occasions, and she indicated to me that she was only interested in Dustin Hatcher not being in the magistrates position," he said. "She indicated she was not interested in money but rather that he not fill that position or be in that position."

Cunningham said that the mother never said anything about having an attorney or he would have spoken to the attorney.

Dustin Hatcher could not be reached for comment regarding the suit or the TBI investigation. When contacted on Saturday, Dec.16, Tom Hatcher said he could not comment regarding the investigation and had not seen the lawsuit. Tom Hatcher said Dustin Hatcher had retained Maryville attorney Joe Costner as his legal council. Costner could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Sheriff James Berrong confirmed in an interview on Saturday, Dec. 16, that the teen’s mother came to the Blount County Justice Center early on Friday, Dec. 1. It didn’t take long for the sheriff to decide the alleged incident needed to be investigated by another agency.

"It was brief," he said of the meeting with the mother. "She came in real early. The office hadn’t opened up," Berrong said.

The woman entered the justice center and spoke with officers at the metal detector. They introduced her to deputy Randy Chambers, who then brought her to Chief Deputy Ron Dunn. Berrong estimated that from the time the mother entered the building to when a decision was made to contact the district attorney and the TBI took about 30 minutes.

"That’s a guess," Berrong said of the timeframe, adding that the decision to contact the district attorney and TBI was to avoid any conflicts of interest. "We don’t want any appearance of a conflict of interest," Berrong said. "That’s basically what we do on cases where we think we have an appearance of a conflict."

The suit is a civil suit and alleges that the Blount County girl's "constitutional protected right to bodily integrity" were violated and that "Plaintiff Jane Doe was subjected to a sexually hostile environment, and a nonconsensual sexual assault."

The act that allegedly occurred in Hatcher's office represents a sexual assault through the "fear of imminent bodily harm" and fear of "harmful and offensive touching" of the teenage girl, according to the lawsuit. Further, the lawsuit alleges that the girl underwent emotional distress due to "a nonconsensual sexual assault" committed "recklessly and intentionally."

Blount Today will post a transcript of the lawsuit on the website on Monday, Dec. 18.

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