Man arrested for "unlawful photography" back in court
For those of us familiar with Scott Conover’s story, it began with his arrest for “unlawful photography” last year after he photographed a Tennessee cop against his wishes.
It was a story that sparked a furor across the Internet, rousing even the most jaded civil libertarians into disbelief. A story that put the spotlight on Johnson County, Tennessee; an Appalachian boondock in the northeast corner of the state.
After all, although it is not uncommon to get arrested for photographing cops, police usually have to find some unrelated charge to justify the arrest, such as disorderly conduct, trespassing, refusing a lawful order, resisting arrest or interfering with an investigation.
But unlawful photography?
It turns out there is a such law in Tennessee but it pertains to minors and pornography. The cop Conover photographed was standing on the side of the road in full uniform issuing a traffic citation. He didn’t exactly have an expectation of privacy.
Not surprisingly, Conover ended up getting the charge dismissed in October, including the accompanying charge of pointing a laser at an officer. That was the third time he been arrested since moving to Tennessee from Florida in 2003, according to court records obtained from the Johnson County Circuit Court Clerk. And the third time his charges were dismissed.
It’s been that way ever since he filed a complaint against the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for severely beating a man in the parking lot of his bar a few months after moving to Johnson County.
And now there has been another arrest. This one stemming from an altercation with a man he says had been stalking his daughter. A man he accuses of being a child pornographer.
That man is now suing Conover for $250,000 for aggravated assault and libel.
William Cockett, the county attorney who filed this arrest warrant against Conover in this case, also co-owns the law firm representing the man suing Conover. Not that he will admit this is a conflict of interest.
Conover, who has since moved back to Florida, will be in court on June 24 for his arraignment.
“They have been retaliating against me for years,” he said. “They don’t like it when you stand up to them. They don’t like you to be a fighter.”
To hear Conover tell the story, it sounds like something out of the movie Deliverance. A backwater tale of backdoor shenanigans. A one-man stand in a one-horse town.
“About a year into our relocation, I witnessed a severe case of police brutality,” he explained.
“The cops pulled someone over on the highway in my parking lot. They beat the crap out of him. They were kicking him, punching him, spraying him in the face with mace. And he was handcuffed the whole time.
“I went down and talked to the sheriff the next day. I told him those guys should be arrested. The sheriff didn’t do anything about it.”
So Conover bailed the guy out of jail, helped him find a lawyer and encouraged him to file a lawsuit. And ever since then, he’s been dealing with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
Conover says deputies continually harassed his customers at his bar over the years, waiting for them to pull out of the parking lot before pulling them over.
Court records show he’s been arrested for assault on a police officer, trespassing, telephone harassment and illegal photography. And each time it’s been dismissed.
The trespassing and telephone harassment charges stem from an August 2004 incident in which he called and banged on his neighbor’s door looking for his daughter who had gone missing.
And the assault on a police officer charge stems from a September 2005 incident in which deputies showed up to his bar claiming someone had reported an assault, but Conover claims they fabricated the call.
The report states that once the deputy showed up to the bar, “the defendant said I don’t like you and you have ruined my business. He then started pointing down the road and struck me in my left forearm. The defendant said he was going to get me, then touched me on the left elbow saying he was suing the county and taking me to federal court.”
“When we showed up to court, the judge asked the cop, ‘Did he hit you’ and the cop said, ‘no’, so the case was dismissed,” Conover said.
Conover did follow through on his promise of filing a federal lawsuit and won.
“We got an out of court settlement and they ended up booting out the sheriff and the lead investigators in the department.”
So a new sheriff was elected and everything was fine for a couple of years until it started up again, he said.
“They started hiring new deputies who wanted to get a mark on their belt so they started harassing my customers, myself and my family,” he said.
So last June, when a deputy pulled one of his customers over, Conover drove up to them and snapped a photo and was arrested for unlawful photography.
Meanwhile, one of his customers began stalking his wife and daughter, calling them on the phone and making them uncomfortable, he said.
The man, which we will call WB for now, lived across the street from Conover’s business and home.
“He would say a lot of provocative things to my daughter,” Conover said. “He is about 56 years old. She was 12 at the time.”
Around this time, a man who runs the local internet company and computer repair shop told Conover that WB had brought in his computer to be repaired and had found child pornography on it.
The man, Charles Mark Combs, who runs High Country Online, then told Conover about his discovery, which led to Conover filing a restraining order against WB on August 27th, 2008.
It is unclear if Combs ever reported his discovery to the local authorities but he did sign a sworn statement on February 21, 2009, confirming that he found child pornography on the computer and that he even placed a text file staying “gotcha” on the computer.
After Combs told him of his discovery, Conover decided he needed to shut his business down and move back to Florida.
“It just got too dangerous for my family here,” he said.
On September 9, 2008, with his family in his truck about to depart to Florida, Conover and WB were involved in an auto accident in front of their respective homes.
Conover claims WB rear-ended him. WB claims Conover pulled in front of him and slammed on the brakes.
Conover claims WB threatened to kill him, so he punched him in the face. WB claims Conover threatened to kill him before punching him in the face.
Conover says that WB then backed up his car as if to run him over, so he hopped back in his truck and drove back to the rear of his building, where he called the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to report the accident.
“I wanted them to arrest him because he had violated the restraining order,” Conover said. “They didn’t do anything about it.”
On October 21, 2008, after having moved back to Florida and hearing no updates on the case, Conover fired off a letter to the Johnson County Commissioners in which he berated the sheriff’s office for not enforcing the restraining order against WB. He also informed them that WB “was involved in child pornography.”
That same day, WB retained attorney Jason A. Creech, who works for the local firm Smith and Cockett – co-owned by Johnson County Attorney William Cockett - and filed a $250,000 suit against Conover for aggravated assault and libel, stemming from the fact that Conover called him a child pornographer in his letter to the commissioners.
After receiving no response from county commissioners from his letter, Conover fired off another letter to the commission on November 26, 2008 where he berated them for not responding to his previous letter and accused the entire county of corruption and xenophobia to outsiders.
“I feel like I moved to Russia instead of Johnson County, TN, for if you don’t go with the flow, or if you talk out of line, you will be dragged off and incarcerated then viciously prosecuted for fictitious charges, ridiculed, humiliated, exploited in the newspaper, discriminated against and run out of town.”
So on December 13, 2008, County Attorney Cockett used these two letters as evidence before a grand jury to indict Conover on aggravated assault and leaving the scene of an accident charges stemming from the September 9 collision with WB.
On December 18, Conover flew back to Tennessee to turn himself in where he was released that same day on bail. He then returned to Florida to await the arraignment.
As of this writing, he is holed up in a motel just outside Johnson County awaiting his Wednesday morning arraignment.
“I hope I can get out of this so I’ll never have to come back to this state again,” he said. “It’s unbelievable what I’ve experienced here. Unbelievable.”