Metro Weekly

Tennessee district attorney who refuses to prosecute LGBTQ domestic violence could be disbarred

Craig Northcott doesn't recognize same-sex marriages, so he won't prosecute same-sex partners

Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott — Photo: Facebook

A district attorney in Tennessee could potentially be disbarred after saying he doesn’t prosecute domestic violence cases between same-sex partners.

Lambda Legal, Tennessee Equality Project, and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center of Rutherford County, Tennessee, have filed a formal complaint against Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott.

Northcott came under fire earlier this year for unearthed statements in which he said that he wouldn’t file domestic violence charges against same-sex partners because he doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

“There’s no marriage to protect,” Northcott told attendees at Chafer Theological Seminary Bible Conference last year. “So I don’t prosecute them as domestics.”

Northcott claimed that Tennessee’s enhanced punishments for domestic violence offenders only apply to heterosexual couples, “to recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage.”

He continued: “I don’t prosecute [same-sex domestic violence] because I don’t recognize it as marriage.”

Due to the nature of his comments — and the fact that they could dissuade LGBTQ people from reporting domestic assault, hate crimes, or other violence — the organizations have reported him to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.

The board works to protect the public from unethical attorneys, and Lambda Legal, Tennessee Equality project, and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center of Rutherford County are specifically calling for Northcott to be investigated and disbarred.

“Coffee County DA Craig Northcott has denied the validity of same-sex marriages and the equal protection of the law to LGBT people,” said Ethan Rice, senior attorney for the Fair Courts Project at Lambda Legal. “Such conduct violates ethics rules protecting citizens from bias and has no place within the very office designated to enforce the law of the land. Keeping DA Northcott in office will have a chilling effect on the willingness of LGBT people to seek justice and protection. District Attorney Northcott’s public comments revealed not only a bias against LGBT people but that he has made discriminatory charging decisions against an entire class of people and intends to continue to do so.”

Christopher K. Sanders, executive director of Tennessee Equality Project and Tennessee Equality Project Foundation, noted that “LGBTQ people experiencing domestic violence are among the most vulnerable populations in Tennessee.”

“Prosecutors have a duty to treat their cases with the same gravity as all other cases,” Sanders continued. “Discrimination in prosecution endangers our community and erodes the public trust in the criminal justice system. We join Lambda Legal’s complaint out of a solemn obligation to the LGBTQ community in Coffee County and a hope for equal protection of the laws.”

In addition to rejecting same-sex marriage and refusing to protect LGBTQ from domestic violence, Northcott also said that he would refrain from prosecuting county clerks who deny marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples.

He said his “advice” to clerks would be to not “succumb” to the law, and instead “stand on God’s truth.”

Northcott said that, rather than make clerks uphold marriage equality as law, he would encourage them to neglect their duties and would “pat [the clerk] on the back” and “give [the clerk] hugs.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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