Family sues former deputy for violating rights of teens

Family sues former deputy for violating rights of teens (Image 1)

A Sumner County family is suing a former deputy and the sheriff's department after they say the deputy violated the civil rights of two minors and a mentally challenged teenager during a traffic stop last summer.

Former deputy Christopher Cunningham pulled over the teens on July 26, 2012.

In a lawsuit filed by Tabetha and Ricky O'Connor, the couple alleges Cunningham illegally detained, questioned and searched the O'Connor's 13-year-old daughter and their 18-year-old mentally challenged son, as well as a 16-year-old boy.

“I'm just upset that this officer [did] this to my children. I hope he doesn't do it to anyone else. I am really upset how Sumner County let us down,” Tabetha O'Connor told Nashville's News 2 Investigates.

Ricky O'Connor said his heart is still broken because he feels like he let his daughter down.

“I am upset. My daughter trusted me and I let her down,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, the trio had done nothing wrong and there was no probable cause when they were pulled over by Cunningham.

“There were numerous breaches of constitutional rights in this case,” the family's attorney, John Meadows, said. “Our position is the deputy should have been better trained and this should not have happened. We are hopeful this won't happen again.”

Following the traffic stop, Cunningham took the teens back to the O'Connor's home, where Tabetha and Ricky were sleeping.

According to the lawsuit, it is there the deputy kept the two boys locked in his patrol car while he snuck into the family's home with the 13-year-old girl.

The lawsuit alleges that once inside, Cunningham ordered the young girl to change clothes. While she did, he reportedly took inappropriate photographs of her.

“Like a burglar, like we had been invaded. He was going through my daughter's bedroom, doing things he shouldn't have been doing,” Tabetha O'Connor said, adding, “She's [going to] be hurting from this for the rest of her life.”

Meadows added, “I think the most problematic part of this is that these children were doing nothing wrong and they were interrogated, searched, put in police cars and driven to their home, where the officer entered a home, with no right to do so, and he continued to interrogate the young lady.”

Sumner County Sheriff Sonny Weatherford told Nashville's News 2 Investigates Cunningham was suspended and ultimately fired following the incident.

“As soon as I found out about the incident, there was a swift investigation,” Weatherford told Nashville's News 2 Investigates over the phone. “I don't feel this is appropriate conduct for an officer. We look for our people to be professional. As soon as we found out he was not acting professional we took action against him. It is shocking to me [Cunningham] would do something like that. I am very disappointed.”

Cunningham has since pleaded guilty to official misconduct and three counts of unlawful photography of a minor.

He served no jail time and was sentenced to three years probation and 200 hours of community service. He has also surrendered his certification as a police officer.

If Cunningham maintains a clean record, his charges will be expunged.

Nashville's News 2 Investigate attempted to reach Cunningham but was unsuccessful.

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