A chorus of state lawmakers is calling for strengthening a Tennessee domestic violence law following the early release of a suspect by Nashville Judge Casey Moreland who police said returned home to abuse his girlfriend for a second time.
This afternoon, two Republicans — House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Rep. William Lamberth of Cottontown — announced they will introduce a law requiring domestic violence suspects to be held for a mandatory 12 hour "cooling off" period immediately following arrest.
On Wednesday, State Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat, pledged to introduce similar legislation. Rep. Sherry Jones, also a Nashville Democrat, said it would be lawmakers' "first priority when they get back in session."
Lawmakers are the latest voices to enter the controversy over the early release of domestic violence suspect David Chase. A prominent local contractor, Chase was arrested June 8 after police said he dragged his girlfriend by her hair. A night court commissioner ordered him held for 12 hours. But Judge Casey Moreland authorized his release after three hours in jail, following a phone conversation with Chase's attorney, Bryan Lewis. Chase returned home, where police said he choked and threatened to kill his girlfriend, who was gathering her things to leave.
After Chase's second arrest, Commissioner Thomas Nelson again authorized his early release.
Tennessee law says that domestic abuse and stalking suspects should be held in jail for 12 hours after an arrest if they are determined to be a continued danger to victims. In Chase's case, each time he was booked, a commissioner noted he was a danger to his alleged victim.
"It is sickening that this court has failed to do everything in its power to ensure that no harm would come of a woman brave enough to stand up to her attacker and call the police," said Odom.
Harwell said: "This is a devastating case and my heart goes out to the victim. This is a tragedy that could have been prevented, and the actions by Judge Moreland are unacceptable. This simple change to the statute can better protect abuse victims, and ensure that their lives are not at risk immediately after reporting an assault."
Nashville attorney Jerry Gonzalez, however, cautioned that lawmakers should not go too far.
A mandatory hold "would allow scorned lovers and other people to charge someone with domestic assault — knowing the offense is false — and ensuring the person is held in jail for at least 12 hours," Gonzalez said.
Lawmakers are the latest public officials to voice their criticism of Moreland's actions. Earlier today, the Davidson County Republican Party called for Moreland to step down from the General Sessions bench. On Wednesday, Metro Council member Megan Barry also asked Moreland to resign. Nashville police chief Steve Anderson issued a