Details of the bizarre incident in which a county deputy baptized a woman in Soddy Lake after finding her with marijuana during a traffic stop have emerged in court pleadings.
The deputy, Daniel Wilkey, was indicted in 2019 on 44 charges including rape, assault, and official oppression.
Federal Judge Travis McDonough opened his legal analysis of the case by stating, "Before the Court is Defendant Jacob Goforth’s motion for summary judgment. In this atypical civil-rights case, Plaintiff Shandle Marie Riley brings several claims stemming from a traffic stop that ultimately resulted in her baptism - yes, baptism - by on-duty Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputy Defendant Daniel Wilkey.
"Goforth, who was also on duty and was present for the desacralized rite, argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Riley’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims and that Riley cannot factually support her state law tort claims against him."
The judge then provided this background:
On February 6, 2019, around 9:15 p.m., Wilkey pulled Riley over in the driveway of her ex-mother-in-law Diane Smith’s home.
Wilkey approached Riley’s driver-side window and asked her what she had in the car. Riley confessed that she had a marijuana roach in her cigarette pack. Wilkey then opened the door for Riley to exit the car and directed her to place her hands on the roof. Wilkey searched her person for about twenty seconds and then handcuffed her.
Another deputy, Tyler McRae, arrived while Wilkey was handcuffing her. After a minute or so of searching, Riley turned around and spoke to Wilkey face-to-face. After they spoke, Wilkey searched her pockets and eventually directed her to wait at the front of his patrol car.
Riley testified that, while searching her this second time, Wilkey inappropriately touched her crotch. Wilkey found the marijuana cigarette upon searching Riley’s person. Wilkey searched Riley’s vehicle while she waited near the patrol car..
According to Riley, Wilkey “tore [her] car apart” searching for other contraband. at 8 (clarifying that he did not literally tear anything but that “he searched it very, very well”).) After searching the vehicle and talking with her at length, Wilkey removed the handcuffs. He then directed Riley to pull up her shirt and shake out her shirt and bra, which she did. Wilkey did not find any additional contraband.
The dashcam video contains no audio of Wilkey and Riley’s conversations.
Wilkey and Riley next discussed religion. They spoke for another thirty minutes, and McRae left sometime during this conversation. Riley testified that Wilkey asked her whether she had been baptized. She responded with concern that she may not be ready. But, according to Riley’s testimony, Wilkey told her “God [was] talking to him” and assured her that, if she got baptized, he would only write her a citation and she would be free to go about her business.
According to Riley, Wilkey also indicated that he would speak at court on her behalf if she agreed. Riley decided to go along with this plan because she“[did not] want to go to jail.” She also “thought [Wilkey] was a God-fearing, church-like man who saw something . . . in [her], that God talked to him,” and testified that “it felt good to believe that for a minute.”
When later asked whether Wilkey “gave [her] the option not to do this,” Riley answered: What do you mean gave me the option? I mean it wasn’t, it wasn’t by gunpoint . . . or anything. . . . I don’t know, like - I’m not sure he told me - I mean, . . . I don’t know if those words [came] out. But I mean, I know that I didn’t have to do it. I mean, I know that I’m a grown woman and I know I didn’t have to do it.
Upon Wilkey’s suggestion, Riley went into Smith’s house to get some towels for the baptism. She was only in the house for a couple minutes, where she spoke briefly to her son, and asked Smith if she could borrow some towels. Smith asked why, and Riley responded, “I guess I’m fixing to get baptized.”
Smith asked her whether that was safe, and Riley replied “I don’t know. We’ll find out.”
After Riley emerged from the house with towels, Wilkey issued her a citation. Riley and Wilkey returned to their respective vehicles, and Riley followed Wilkey in her car for about twelve minutes to Soddy Lake.
That night, Goforth was also on patrol. Wilkey called (Jacob) Goforth while driving to Soddy Lake “and requested [his] presence at the Soddy Lake boat ramp to witness a baptism.”
Goforth believed Wilkey was baptizing someone who he knew personally. Goforth did not learn that Riley had been cited for a criminal offense until he arrived at the boat ramp. Goforth avers that he “asked [Wilkey] if he had thought about [baptizing Riley] in an effort to provoke reconsideration,” but that Wilkey “wanted to proceed.”
Wilkey arrived at Soddy Lake around 10:36 p.m. and waited in his car for several minutes. Once Goforth arrived, Wilkey introduced Riley and Goforth to each other, stating that Riley wanted to be baptized.
In preparation for the baptism, Wilkey told Riley, “I’m going to be honest with you, . . .I’m going to strip down to my skivvies, ” but he asked Riley to keep her clothes on. asking her to “bear with [him]”).) Wilkey removed all his clothing except his underwear and t-shirt, and Riley remained fully clothed except for her shoes.
Wilkey baptized Riley by quickly submerging her in the water while holding her with one hand on her back and the other hand on her front. Goforth filmed the baptism on his cellphone.Goforth avers that he did so “to protect all persons present and document the event.” (also stating that he “thought that making the video would prevent Riley from claiming something happened which did not”)
There is some dispute as to where Wilkey was touching Riley during the actual baptism: stated one of his arms was touching her breast but in the video Goforth took of the baptism, it appears as though Wilkey was only holding her arm.
Wilkey and Riley were in the water for approximately one minute and twenty seconds total. Once out of the water, Riley and Wilkey hugged each other for roughly four seconds. When asked why she had hugged Wilkey, Riley testified that she “was just trying to get the heck out of there,” and that she left immediately without talking with Wilkey or Goforth.
Riley also testified that Goforth smirked at her while she was drying herself off, though Goforth denies interacting with her in any way. Riley further stated that, at that point, “[she] knew it had nothing to do with God [or] . . . with saving [her or] . . . with [anyone] being a good person. It had something to do with power and control[.]”
Goforth avers that “Wilkey and Riley spoke pleasantly to each other[,] laughing and joking among themselves” and that Riley “appeared to be participating in the event voluntarily and with enthusiasm.”
At 11:00 p.m., all three walked back to their vehicles. There was some conversation and laughter before Riley departed, and Goforth and Wilkey continued talking after she left.
On September 31, 2019, Riley filed this action in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County, Tennessee (Doc. 1-1), and, on October 29, 2019, Defendant Hamilton County removed the action with Wilkey and Goforth’s consent (Doc. 1).
Judge McDonough did not find that Goforth violated Ms. Riley's unreasonable search rights so that claim was thrown out.
However, he did not throw out another claim against Goforth involving illegal seizure based on Goforth's obligation to stop another officer from committing a constitutional violation.