Student's lawsuit against Wise deputy over phone incident settled

Mike Still • Feb 12, 2020 at 9:44 AM

ABINGDON — A 2018 federal civil case involving a Wise County school resource officer detaining an L.F. Addington Middle School student over suspected cell phone child porn has been settled.

According to documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Federal Court in Abingdon, lawyers for Deputy Ryan Adkins and the unidentified student, 14 at the time of the incident, agreed to a monetary settlement instead of the original $500,000 in damages.

Details of that amount were sealed after briefly being made public on the court’s PACER documents system Tuesday.

The case stemmed from an April 17 incident at Addington Middle, where Adkins claimed in an incident report filed with the court that a female student told a guidance counselor that her friend was upset about nude photos being sent out to other students via Snapchat.

The student’s lawsuit claimed that Adkins came to the cafeteria, demanded the cell phone without explanation twice and then took by the arm and out of the cafeteria into a corridor in front of his classmates.

The lawsuit also claimed that Adkins then repeated without explanation his demand for the phone. At that point, according to the lawsuit, the student followed prior instructions from his father about any encounter with law enforcement and tried to call his father with the cell phone. Adkins then tackled him, threw him to the ground and laid on top of him while taking the phone, the suit stated.

Adkins stated that he spoke with the second female student, who told him that she had sent the photos only to her ex-boyfriend, the student who was the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Adkins then questioned other students, who said the plaintiff had the photos on his phone.

Adkins said in his report that he and the guidance counselor found the plaintiff in the school cafeteria, where Adkins told him he needed the phone and for the student to come with him.

After the plaintiff refused, Adkins said he told him he needed the phone for an investigation. The plaintiff then said he had Constitutional Fourth Amendment rights before he took the phone while appearing to delete items from it and also walking away, Adkins stated.

At that point, Adkins said, the plaintiff tried to leave the school entrance as Adkins grabbed his jacket and dragged him back inside the building, put him on the floor after a struggle and took the phone.

After the school principal called the plaintiff’s parents, Adkins said he advised him that he could not examine the phone without parental permission or a search warrant. When the plaintiff’s mother arrived, Adkins said, she gave permission to examine the contents and no nude photos were found.

Adkins said he did not have his body camera on during the incident because it was charging in his car, but a video recording from a school security camera was secured for evidence and later sealed by a federal judge.

The plaintiff, who originally sued for $500,000, claimed that Adkins illegally took and searched the phone and used excessive force leading to back and other physical injuries, embarrassment and emotional injuries, the suit claimed.

Wise County Sheriff Grant Kilgore said Tuesday that Adkins — still employed by the Sheriff’s Department — acted legally and lawfully in the incident.

“It is our duty to protect all evidence and parties during any investigation,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore said Adkins used “a certain amount of force” to protect evidence on the plaintiff’s cell phone when he possibly was trying to delete digital evidence and to protect the ex-girlfriend from “criminal victimization and resulting embarrassment by allowing the (photo) to be distributed.”

Kilgore also said the plaintiff, in court filings after the original lawsuit, conceded that Adkins was justified in seizing and searching his cell phone. He also said that U.S. District Judge James Jones had denied the plaintiff and Adkins’ requests for summary judgement and was set to send the case to jury trial before Tuesday’s settlement agreement.

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