Attorney and friend John Wolfe is the focus of this writing. I was so saddened when I heard of John’s death because I consider his passing to be a great loss to people in need of a courageous attorney.
On Jan. 2, 2004, my husband Dwight and I received a call that no parent wants to receive. That was the call that our son had been killed. As the mother of Leslie Vaughn Prater, I entered the darkest period of my life, and I am still struggling to be a survivor and not a victim.
We were initially told that it is difficult to get an attorney to take cases that involved wrongdoing of police officers. John was recommended as one who had a history of taking on these cases. According to the recommendation, he was not afraid of the police or the police union. We were told that because of the cases that he was willing to take, that people among the “establishment,” were against him. That factor may have been instrumental in his not winning an election. However, I believe he had the knowledge of problems in the system, combined with his caring for all the people, which would have made him an effective legislator.
John was very compassionate regarding our situation. His actions demonstrated that he sincerely cared about us. He was more than what one might expect of an attorney, and he was not chasing the dollar. He was chasing justice. He was ever present in all of our activities, and there were many. He even attended our memorials to Leslie, that were scheduled for years after Leslie’s death One such event occurred was a jazz dinner at the Bessie Smith Hall in 2014, which was an acknowledgement of Leslie’s life, 10 years after his death. John was there for press conferences, meetings with police administrators, and their attorneys. We did not live in Chattanooga, so there were many additional resources needed for constant contact, including attendance of a meeting outside of Chattanooga.
Because of the complexity of our case, he recruited an additional attorney to join his firm and work with us. That person was very talented and knowledgeable about social justice issues. Interestingly, Amelia Roberts was also a former student of mine, when we were both at Hixson High School.
Because the Chattanooga Police Department had a lot more experience in these matters than our family, I suggested that an out of town firm join John and Amelia on our case. He was unselfish and welcomed the New York firm of Johnny Cochrane, Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, with Nick Brustin. John’s involvement with us extended years beyond the federal lawsuit settlement.
When I decided to write my book, “Excessive Use of Force,” John opened his files to me, and provided administrative support from his office staff. At our upcoming event to remember Leslie’s life, 20 years after his death, I will miss John’s presence.
How would I sum up a description of John? John A. Wolfe was authentic and a good man who cared about justice for all. He was willing to speak the truth and sacrifice a personal political career to stand with and help people. John will be missed.
Dr. Loretta P. Prater