Judge won’t dismiss embattled prosecutor from political case
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee judge ruled on Thursday that a special prosecutor who has come under fire for making anti-gay and anti-Islam remarks will continue to handle a young black activist’s court case.
The decision comes among a long series of developments involving Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott, who has faced increased scrutiny and calls to be investigated as he oversees a high-profile legal case involving student activist Justin Jones.
“It’s the public faith in the integrity of the justice system that’s at stake here. ... We’re asking that (Jones) get a fair prosecutor and the appearance of a fair prosecutor,” Dominic Leonardo, Jones’ attorney, told Judge Dianne Turner.
Turner said Thursday that none of the complaints against Northcott were sufficient to dismiss him from the case. Moment before, Northcott described attempts to remove him as a “political stunt.”
Northcott has been facing fallout after writing in a post on social media in April that Islam’s belief system is “evil, violent and against God’s truth” and that being Muslim is no different than “being part of the KKK, Aryan Nation, etc.”
Also in April, video footage recorded a year earlier surfaced showing Northcott commenting that gay couples shouldn’t receive domestic violence protections because such laws are designed to protect the “sanctity of marriage.”
He has continually defended his contentious remarks but Jones’ attorneys and lawmakers have asked state officials to investigate further.
Turner, however, said she was “not persuaded it is a case to disqualify Mr. Northcott.”
Jones was arrested at the Tennessee Capitol in February for allegedly throwing a cup of iced tea into an elevator occupied by former House Speaker Glen Casada and other lawmakers and staffers. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct, but his case took a turn when allegations surfaced that Casada’s then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, doctored an email to make it appear Jones violated his bond conditions.
Both Cothren and Casada denied the accusations, but Northcott was assigned to investigate.
Northcott told the court in July that he had spoken with the legislative IT department and concluded the email from Jones to Casada had gotten stuck in a spam filter, making it appear it was sent after Jones was banned from contacting Casada. Jones’ attorneys have rejected this explanation. Jones has said that he wrote the email to Casada before his arrest and that someone changed the date to make it look like it was afterward.
The attorneys also said Northcott should have but didn’t interview either Jones or Cothren.
The Associated Press has requested all investigation materials to determine whom Northcott interviewed in his investigation. Northcott has denied the request, citing the ongoing legal case.
The case is not the first to ensnare Casada and Cothren. Cothren resigned in the spring and Casada stepped aside from his legislative leadership position earlier this month after both acknowledged exchanging explicit text messages about women.