By: The Washington Post , Deanna Paul//June 5, 2019
By: The Washington Post , Deanna Paul//June 5, 2019//
The chief prosecutor in Coffee County, Tennessee, implied that he would not prosecute domestic violence of same-sex couples, according to recently released video of a 2018 event.
Craig Northcott was recorded telling participants at a bible conference what happens when voters elect a “Good Christian man as D.A,” according to video released Monday by Nashville television station News Channel 5.
“Y’all need to know who your D.A. is,” he reminded the crowd. “You give us a lot of authority. . . . We can choose to prosecute anything. We can choose not to prosecute anything.”
Using what he termed “prosecutorial discretion,” Northcott said, “the social engineers on the Supreme Court now decided we have homosexual marriage. I disagree with them.”
In his jurisdiction, which includes the area that hosts the Bonnaroo summer music festival, Northcott says same-sex partners are not afforded the protections of domestic violence laws.
When reached by phone, Northcott said, “There’s no marriage to protect with homosexual relationships, so I don’t prosecute them as domestic.” He refused to comment further.
In Tennessee, a domestic assault conviction carries enhanced punishments, like permanently forfeiting the right to own a firearm. The prosecutor’s interpretation of the statute was that the sanctions were created to “recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage.”
It is unclear whether Northcott, who took office in 2014, has acted on his statement, though as the chief prosecutor in Coffee County, he has discretion to make charging decisions.
In most states, the law does not require that a victim be married to his or her abuser to constitute a crime of intimate partner violence.
Under Tennessee law, while a victim of domestic abuse can be former or current spouse, it is also defined as individuals who previously had or currently have a sexual relationship, or people who previously or currently live together.
“Our definition of domestic abuse is extremely broad,” said Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence executive director Kathy Walsh, noting that Tennessee laws are not gender specific and do not discriminate based on sexual orientation. “We want to protect as many people as possible with our laws.”
But just having good laws is not enough, she said.
The consensus from advocates was that Monday’s video reinforces the need to continue educating the public about domestic violence and LGTBQ rights.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, called it surprising that a Tennessee district attorney would refuse equal protection of the law to all victims of domestic violence.
“The scariest part of (the video) is that there are people whose cases have been affected, but they didn’t know why they were treated differently,” said Sanders. “Now, we do.”
Less than two months ago, Northcott was criticized for saying that Muslims have “no constitutional rights.”
“There are only God-given rights protected by the Constitution. If you don’t believe in the one true God, there is nothing to protect,” News Channel 5 quoted him as saying in response to a claim that Muslims worshipped the same God as he did.
Northcott refused to apologize and dismissed calls for his resignation at the time.