GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A former special prosecutor’s federal lawsuit accusing the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) and the city of retaliating against her for whistleblowing over an alleged drug dealer and serial rapist will go to jury trial in mid-May 2024. The trial is scheduled to be heard in Knoxville.
Depositions of JCPD Chief Karl Turner, plaintiff Kateri “Kat” Dahl and others are scheduled to begin in late March 2023, according to recent filings on the case in the Eastern District of Tennessee U.S. District Court. Dahl filed a lawsuit June 23 alleging five counts ranging from First Amendment retaliation by Turner and due process violations to retaliatory discharge by Johnson City.
The parties declined an opportunity to have the case heard before a magistrate and avoid a jury trial, moving instead toward the jury trial process.
Federal District Judge Katherine Crytzer released her “scheduling order” Nov. 23. That order does note the availability of a federal mediation program, particularly in the employment discrimination portion of the case.
The case centers around Dahl’s claim that the city failed to renew an annual “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) for her continued employment in response to her involvement in the case of a downtown Johnson City business owner the suit identifies by the pseudonym “Robert Voe.”
Editor’s Note: News Channel 11 is aware of Voe’s actual name but is identifying him by his pseudonym because the court documents filed publicly so far don’t disclose his name.
Dahl was in the second year of the renewable MOU when police came to her with a case involving ‘Voe’ in November 2020. Dahl’s role was to work with JCPD and help take certain crimes and cases involving drug trafficking and weapons to federal court, where convictions often carry longer sentences that don’t allow for parole.
Police had discovered ammunition in ‘Voe’s’ safe while investigating a woman’s fall from ‘Voe’s’ fifth-story condominium window in September of that year (the woman survived). Voe was a felon, and the “felon in possession of ammunition” charge qualified for Dahl’s involvement.
The lawsuit states that Dahl wanted to work with JCPD to build a broader case against ‘Voe.’ The detective who brought the ammunition case to her, Toma Sparks, had told her “about unproven, but pervasive, rumors within the community that ‘Voe’ engaged in cocaine trafficking.”
Dahl also wanted JCPD to more vigorously pursue numerous sexual assault allegations against ‘Voe.’ Ultimately, she obtained a sealed warrant only charging ‘Voe’ with the ammunition offense in April 2021.
Several weeks later on May 5, 2021, officers went to ‘Voe’s’ apartment door after Sparks issued a “BOLO” (be on the lookout) mentioning the sealed warrant. Three officers who were there ended up leaving at the order of a supervisor, with the JCPD saying there wasn’t sufficient proof ‘Voe’ was home.
Dahl’s suit describes this as a “botched” arrest that has allowed ‘Voe’ to be aware of the warrant and remain at large.
“‘Voe’s’ unlawful flight was possible only because of intentional or reckless misconduct by officers …,” the lawsuit claims.
On June 24, 2021, a week before an extended one-year MOU would have begun, Turner signed a letter informing Dahl that the city and JCPD “do not desire to extend your assignment.”
Dahl’s attorneys told the court they anticipated a five-day trial according to a “discovery plan” published Nov. 9, but the JCPD asked for a longer window partly because Dahl “has named ten (10) Jane Does and has alleged corruption or incompetence within the Johnson City Police Department.”
Because the defendants “do not know the scope of the Plaintiff’s allegations, including the number of witnesses that may be called,” they asked for 10 days to be reserved.
Key dates in the pre-trial and trial schedule include:
- Dec. 8, 2022: Submission of “initial disclosures” including names of people who may have information that must be shared through discovery and additional documents, data compilations and other things that could be used to support each side’s case.
- September/October 2023: Disclosure of any expert testimony by plaintiff Dahl (Sept. 18) and the defendant (Oct. 17). Rebuttal expert testimony must be disclosed by Oct. 31.
- Dec. 1, 2023: All discovery including expert depositions must be complete.
- April 30, 2024: Final pre-trial conference.
- May 14, 2024: Jury trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in courtroom 3C of Knoxville’s Howard H. Baker, Jr. U.S. Courthouse.