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.


Latest Hamilton County Jail Booking Report - And Mug Shots

Here is the latest jail booking report from Hamilton County: ALLEN, BRIAN PATRICK 7337 VALLEY LANE HIXSON, 37343 45 Hamilton County POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA MOTORCYCLE HELMET LAW VIOLATION IMPROPER PASSING (NO PASSING ZONES) POSSESSION OF DRUG PARAPHERNALIA ALLEN, THADDEUS JOEL 3401 CAMPBELL ST #313 CHATTANOOGA, 37406 21 Hamilton County DOMESTIC ... (click for more)

Crimestoppers: Robbery At Highway 58 Family Dollar

Crime Stoppers and the Chattanooga Police Department are seeking information on a robbery from a business that occurred at the Family Dollar at 4749 Highway 58 on Oct. 21.  Chattanooga Police need the public's help with the identification of the suspects in the pictures. One suspect was observed through surveillance video entering the store displaying a handgun. Both suspects ... (click for more)

Congratulations To Ron Hughes

Hearty congratulations to Ron Hughes for being selected as Tennessee State Elementary Principal of the Year for 2014. Wherever Ron has been assigned as principal, he has exhibited strong leadership both academically and morally. His faith in God and his love for the students of Hamilton County have guided his actions and everyone that has benefited from the excellent education ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Brittany’s Days Dwindle

So here we are, facing what is known as “Devil’s Night” before Halloween comes, and the almost macabre news now comes that Brittany Maynard, the beautiful girl who has chosen to end her life as soon as Saturday, is struggling to meet her own deadline. She has inoperable brain cancer and, at best, only months to live. The 29-year-old, who was married shortly before her devastating ... (click for more)

Notre Dame Soccer Advance to A-AA State Semis

MURFREESBORO - Juniors Sofia Olenchek and Emma Higgins scored two goals each to lead Notre Dame to a 4-0 victory against No.14 Spring Hill here Wednesday night in a TSSAA A-AA State Girls Quarterfinals at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex. The win advances unranked Notre Dame (11-5-4) to the state semis against Jackson Christian Thursday at 5 p.m. EDT. No.6 Jackson Christian ... (click for more)

CCS Soccer Wins 1-0; Advances to State Semis

MURFREESBORO - Freshman striker Olivia Hoffman was in the right place at the right time as her goal in the 26th minute proved to be the match winner as No.25 Chattanooga Christian defeated No. 8 Hume Fogg, 1-0, here Wednesday in a TSSAA A-AA State Girls Soccer Quarterfinal at Richard Siegel Soccer Complex. "The ball bounced off a couple of players and I was able to put it in ... (click for more)