Defense Says Arrest Of Chattanooga Photographer Ordered By Texas Sheriff Was Not Her First

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Donna Johnson
Donna Johnson

A Chattanooga photographer who is suing a Texas sheriff for having her arrested for allegedly taking payment and not furnishing photos had been taken into custody before, it was testified Tuesday in Federal Court.

Attorney Jerry Tidwell brought out that Donna Johnson was arrested on bad check charges in 1994 and 2003.

Ms. Johnson is suing Wichita County, Texas Sheriff David Duke after he brought theft charges against her in late November 2011. She is asking $500,000 in damages.

Sheriff Duke, Chief Deputy Allen Boyd and other personnel from the Wichita County Sheriff's Office have had to be in Chattanooga for recent days of testimony before Judge Curtis Collier.

Ms. Johnson said Tuesday that Sheriff Duke had given her an extension of time on filling the order from photos taken in late July 2011, so she said she could not believe it when two Hamilton County Sheriff fugitive detectives showed up at the Extended Stay motel where she was staying on Nov. 30, 2011.

She said she called Sheriff Duke, and he told her he was unaware she was being arrested. She said she also tried to call Gino Bennett of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, saying she had taken photos of him and Sheriff Jim Hammond in the past.

Sheriff Duke testified earlier that his department made payments, but did not get their photos after months had past. He said he spoke with other sheriff departments, who told him they had the same experience. 

Attorney Tidwell said prior to the arrest of the 54-year-old Ms. Johnson that several Texas sheriffs had gotten together with an assistant district attorney to discuss theft charges against Ms. Johnson.

The defense attorney produced an email from a sheriff department that had photos made in 2010 and had not gotten them two years later. The email said it was "past ridiculous."

Ms. Johnson said she had a good relationship with Sheriff Duke throughout the process of taking the pictures and then working with him on getting them filled. She said, "We had a great rapport."

She said during the photo shoot he had borrowed her camera. She said when she later looked at the pictures "I saw he had taken one of a K-9's anus." She said, "It was a big joke. It was all in good humor."

Ms. Johnson said she conversed with the sheriff just before her arrest with him asking her Thanksgiving plans and then later wanting to know how Thanksgiving went.

She said most sheriffs "have a lot on their plate. They are busy fighting crime." But she said Sheriff Duke agreed early on to be the contact point with her on the photo order.

Ms. Johnson said after making trips to Texas on the various sheriff orders she could see that actual orders were inadequate and she was in a losing proposition. She said, "There was a shift in technology. This was not a viable business model any more."

She said she closed her office on Chestnut Street after the July shoots, and she moved to a Microtel and then to the Extended Stay. She said she put her printing equipment in storage. She said her husband, two sons and her real estate agent helped move some of the equipment to the Extended Stay so she could finish the jobs.

She said she took a job at a staffing service and worked on finishing the photos at night. She said she had trouble getting the money to buy paper and ink. However, attorney Tidwell introduced records of spending at her Cherokee Studios account, including numerous cash withdrawals and purchases at Starbucks, Fresh Market and elsewhere. She admitted that at the time she and her husband-to-be were mingling their private funds with the company funds in the one account.   

She said she had the Wichita County job almost ready and offered to send what she had, but Sheriff Duke always said not to send anything until it was all ready.

Ms. Johnson said not long before her arrest she got word "there were rumblings among the troops" and even Sheriff Duke "seemed a little different."

She told the six-person jury, "Because of the nature of the accusation and the illegal arrest, I was terminated." (from her job at Amazon).  They have zero tolerance for anything of a theft nature. My permanent position, my promotion, everything was gone."

Ms. Johnson currently works with Keller Williams in Cleveland.

Wichita County officials had to have a special meeting to approve the considerable expenses involved in the trial, including travel back and forth to Chattanooga.

She is represented by attorneys Joe Dickson and John Anderson.


King Oehmig, Episcopal Priest, Former Baylor Golf Coach, Dies At Age 63

King Oehmig, a well-known Episcopal priest who earned national prominence as the golf coach at Baylor School, died Saturday afternoon of an apparent heart attack. Rev. Oehmig, age 63, was fishing at Blue Springs near Chickamauga at the time of his death. He was a much-beloved member of a prominent Chattanooga family. His father, the late Lew Oehmig, was considered as one ... (click for more)

Latest Hamilton County Jail Booking Report

Here is the latest jail booking report from Hamilton County: ADAMS, HUEY  119 BATES ST CHARLESTON, 37310  Age at Arrest: 36 years old Arresting Agency: Hamilton County THEFT OF PROPERTY --- ARSENEAU, SARAH ANNE  2210 RED TAIL LANE CHATTANOOGA, 37421  Age at Arrest: 27 years old Arresting Agency: Chattanooga THEFT OF PROPERTY (UNDER $500) ... (click for more)

Shame On The Housing Authority - And Response

With Chattanooga and other cities around the nation struggling to find solutions to chronic homelessness it's cruel to evict families likely with children over a fight.   When you evict the adults you're also evicting any and all children in the household.  Intelligence would dictate looking for a root cause. Compassion would dictate looking for alternatives. Both ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Buy Ping Golf Clubs

As we set the charcoal, ice the drinks and prepare for Memorial Day, the first thing on my mind is to ask any golfers within my reach to consider buying and playing with Ping-brand golf clubs. Pings are made in America but there is a little something else you need to know, as told in an email I received earlier this week. I regret I do not know the author: * * * “On Monday, ... (click for more)

Winter Leads CFC To 3-1 Win Over Jesters

The Chattanooga Football Club's Luke Winter had two first half goals to lead the home team to a 3-1 win over visiting New Orleans Jesters at Finley Stadium on Saturday.  Winter scored in the 9th and 33rd minute.  Winter's first goal came off a nice cross by Jose Ferraz.  Winter picked up his second goal after Leo DeSmedt sent a ball into the box and Winter ... (click for more)

Flames Fall In NCCAA Baseball Championship

The Lee fans waited and waited for the big hit that had ignited the Flames in five other wins during the 2015 NCCAA World Series. The hit never came and neither did the big inning in the 6-2 loss to Fresno Pacific in Saturday afternoon's championship at Prasco Park. It marked the second straight year that the Sunbirds defeated the Flames in the NCCAA final. Lee wraps up the ... (click for more)