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.

Upcoming City Council Agenda For Tuesday

Here is the upcoming City Council agenda for Tuesday: I. Call to Order. II. Pledge of Allegiance/Invocation (Councilman Freeman). III. Minute Approval. IV. Special Presentation. “2015 World AIDS Day” By Council for HIV/AIDS Care and Prevention V. Ordinances – Final Reading: PLANNING a. 2015-124 Belle Investment Company and BYD Cowart, GP (Lift Condition). ... (click for more)

PHOTOS: Unveiling Of The EPB Holiday Windows

The time-honored Chattanooga tradition of EPB’s downtown holiday windows feature the themes of “Chattanooga Strong” and other beloved holiday stories. For the second year, STEM School Chattanooga students have assisted EPB’s “elves” to develop the themes and create the scenes that attract thousands of local and visiting families each holiday season. The Chattanooga Girls’ Choir ... (click for more)

An Extra Helping Of Gratitude

After being thankful for the grace of God, my family and good health, this year I have an extra helping of gratitude to live in a special place called Chattanooga.   We endured the trauma of terrorism on July 16 and emerged more united and stronger than ever before.  We claim our heritage and celebrate our diversity like no other city in America.  We honor our ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: We Can’t ‘Ban The Box’

I know a man who has over 20 former convicts from federal prisons who either work for him or who have retired with their dignity, pride, and self-worth restored. Better yet, I know some of them, men who have done “hard time” in prisons so wretched none of us would dare to go. So on the surface I applaud City Councilman Yusef Hakeem for seeing ways to get formerly incarcerated men ... (click for more)

Alcoa Ends Notre Dame's Season With 42-2 Setback

ALCOA -- It's hard to get past the cold hard facts. Notre Dame's Fighting Irish football team had another outstanding season, but it ended the same way as last year with a semifinal loss to the Alcoa Tornadoes. It wasn't as close as last year's 28-19 defeat as Alcoa gave up a safety in its first possession before scoring 42 straight points, winning for the 10th straight week ... (click for more)

Heights Point Guard Alexander Commits To Florida

Hamilton Heights point guard Shai Alexander, who scored 18 points in the Hawks’ win over Central Park on Tuesday, made a recruiting trip to the University of Florida on Wednesday and announced Friday that he has made a non-binding verbal to coach Mike White’s Gators. Alexander later Friday night scored 12 points and dished out five assists in helping the Hawks post a 66-51 ... (click for more)