Saying he has been “in fear for his safety,” County Commissioner Michael Shane Wilcher has filed a federal lawsuit against Warren County government and fellow County Commissioner Ron Lee.
The lawsuit is seeking punitive and compensatory damages against both Lee and Warren County government.
The lawsuit stems from an Aug. 18 encounter between Lee and Wilcher that happened before a full Warren County Commission meeting. Lee approached Wilcher upset about mail Wilcher had sent to his house. The conversation was captured on video.
“If you ever send a piece of mail to my property again at my house, I’ll whip your ass. You understand me?” Lee can be heard saying on the video.
After the question was asked if this was a threat, Lee responded, “I didn’t threaten you. I’m making a promise. You don’t send nothing suspicious to my house. Any business that goes through the county comes through the county executive’s office.”
The lawsuit contends Wilcher has been placed “in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical harm at the hands of Defendant Lee.”
The lawsuit goes on to say Wilcher “has been in fear of his safety every time he attends a public hearing where Defendant Lee is present and is chilled in his efforts to contact his duly elected officials.”
Warren County is named in the lawsuit because Wilcher says county officials have been aware of the video since August and have ignored it By not addressing the issue, Wilcher contends, the county is supporting such behavior.
“Although several other county officials at the meeting on Aug. 18, 2014 overheard the threat made by Ronald Lee, and other officials were made aware of it by the plaintiff, no county official investigated or condemned the assaultive act and Defendant Lee was never disciplined or admonished. In effect, Defendant Warren County acquiesced and condoned the actions of Defendant Lee by its silence and refusal to address the issue.”
The lawsuit goes on to claim the county showed “deliberate indifference” and failed to “admonish or otherwise discipline Defendant for his assaultive action.”
When asked his reasons for filing the lawsuit, Wilcher said via email, “I still believe elected citizens should not break laws. When they do, I believe elected officials should be held to the same standards that any citizen is. That goes for violating the people’s constitutional rights as well. People wonder how elected officials sometimes appear above the law. It’s because we the people don’t stand up and say enough about the misconduct.”
Wilcher has asked for a trial by jury on all issues in the case filed in federal court in Winchester. The lawsuit has been assigned a case number and is scheduled to be heard by Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr.
In seeking compensatory damages, Wilcher must prove he has suffered legally recognizable harm that can be compensated by a certain amount of money. Punitive damages, if assigned, are done so to deter similar acts in the future.
Wilcher is being represented by attorney Jerry Gonzalez of Murfreesboro.
County Executive Herschel Wells said Monday he has not read the lawsuit and has no comment at this time.
Commissioner Lee did not return a phone call seeking comment.