By all appearances, Feb. 23, 2014, was shaping up to be a normal and relaxing Sunday for the Doughty family, as Scott Doughty of Lenoir City was gearing up to watch the Daytona 500, while his 13-year-old daughter said she was headed to her bedroom to take nap after making a remark about her favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“She said, ‘My guy’s gonna win today’,” Scott said, recalling one of the last conversations he had with his daughter.
After walking by the bedroom three times that afternoon to check on his daughter, Scott noticed on the fourth pass that she hadn’t moved from her spot, although the girl normally switches positions frequently during sleep. A closer investigation revealed that she wasn’t breathing. Scott and his son attempted to revive the girl with cardiopulmonary resuscitation to no avail.
“Knowing what I saw that day, knowing what it done to me, I can’t even fathom the effect that it would have had on a 15-year-old boy trying to do CPR on his sister unsuccessfully,” Doughty said, noting that police later hypothesized the girl died from a practice known as “dusting,” or getting high off compressed air.
On March 6, six days after the burial ceremony, Doughty was summoned to a meeting at Lenoir City High School with Tennessee Department of Children’s Services officials that resulted in his son’s removal from the home on claims that Doughty had abused his child.
After having limited time to see his son throughout the next year, Doughty filed a lawsuit March 9 in U.S. District Court claiming DCS wrongfully removed his son from the home, charging that the state had no court order or legal authority to take such action.
During the meeting at the school a year earlier, Doughty’s son claimed his father was violent, bipolar and had not been taking his medications, according to the suit. The meeting was attended by DCS workers and lawsuit defendants Bailee Welch, Shannon Forrester and Kristy Bledsoe, DCS attorney Brandon Pelizzari, family members of Doughty and a boyfriend of Scott’s daughter.
His son alleged to DCS officials that Doughty had “thrown him across the room and punched him in the stomach,” Welch was quoted as saying in the suit.
“When was I supposed to have done this?” Doughty asked.
“A year or so ago. He couldn’t say for sure,” Welch said.
Doughty, who filed the lawsuit on a pro se basis, is requesting $100,000 for expenditures related to services, medications and treatment for psychological therapy stemming from “extreme depression, pain and suffering and contributing to complications of the diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to the actions taken by all defendants” in the case. He is also requesting $10 million in punitive damages.
Marcy Martin, team coordinator with the DCS office in Lenoir City, would not comment on the case. When asked whether the three DCS employees named in the suit were still employed at her office, she deferred comment to Rob Johnson, DCS director of communications in Nashville.
Johnson said in an email correspondence that Welch resigned from the office effective July 19, 2014. Bledsoe and Forrester are still actively employed with DCS. Johnson said the Tennessee Attorney General’s office will represent DCS in the case.
“I know about that issue, but I can’t say anything,” Johnson said about the case. “The department can’t comment.”
Harlow Sumerford, communications director with the AG’s office, did not provide further details. “Our office is aware of the lawsuit, but no court date has been set,” Sumerford said.
During an interview about the lawsuit in late April, Doughty said DCS did not have any “exigent circumstances” that would warrant a removal of his son from the home, and the agency did not obtain a court order in pursuing the action.
“She took my child, and in violation or complete denial or indifference to the DCS requirement, she took him and she hid him out,” Doughty said about Welch. “She didn’t take him to the emergency room. She didn’t seek any kind of emergency care whatsoever.”
Welch acted only on “verbal accusations” against Doughty without evidence of physical abuse, according to the lawsuit.
Welch’s “failure to not have the child evaluated or treated for physical injury by any medical personnel whatsoever, failure to call the police nor any other law enforcement agencies of any kind to intervene in a crisis situation, all support the fact that DCS caseworker Welch acted soley (sic) upon ‘verbal,’ unfounded, unsubstantiated allegations made by CD against his father,” the lawsuit charges.
Doughty said he and his son hadn’t experienced relationship problems in the days leading up to the DCS action, noting that they were both in family therapy at Cherokee Health Systems. He said based on counsel from his psychologist, his son may not have fully accepted or come to terms with his sister’s untimely death.
“And I represent the end of the road, the reality, because I was there that day,” Doughty said.
After further discussion during the meeting at the high school last year, all parties eventually agreed to place the boy in the custody of Maripat Gettelfinger, a psychologist at the school, whose son was best friends with the child. Doughty’s son, however, threatened to run away if he was not sent to the home of Scott’s ex-wife, Whitney Teffeteller, who lived in Seymour at the time.
Later on the night of March 6, Welch, accompanied by a Roane County Sheriff’s deputy, came to the home of Doughty’s mother requesting the boy’s belongings, according to the lawsuit. When asked about the boy’s location, Welch reportedly said, “He’s at Whitney’s house. He said if we put him anywhere else he’d run if we didn’t let him stay there, and we can’t have him threatening that.”
Doughty said his son stayed with Teffeteller from early March 2014 through Dec. 22, and since that date the boy has lived with his mother, Jacqui Stephens, in the city of Loudon. Doughty said since late December, he has seen his son only a few times — four hours on Christmas Day and on three other visits through late April.
As of Tuesday, DCS has not provided an answer to Doughty’s various complaints in the suit.
Doughty said he thought DCS will file a motion for summary judgment on the basis of immunity that he anticipates will be denied, which will be followed by a settlement conference. If litigation goes beyond that stage, a hearing on pre-trial motions and a jury selection will ensue.
“This case is not about the money,” Doughty said. “... You don’t have any other recourse other than to take these people to court.”
He said that by filing the suit, he was not planning to pursue a settlement arrangement with DCS.
“As far as my lawsuit, to be honest with you, I’d just as soon not even enter into negotiations to settle,” Doughty said. “This is a slam dunk, and I want them to be held accountable for what they done. They need to be held accountable for what they’ve done.”