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Meigs County DA responds to $10 million lawsuit filed in death of Tabitha Smith

From Local 3 News: The Meigs County District Attorney is responding to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the woman who drowned handcuffed in the back o

From Local 3 News: The Meigs County District Attorney is responding to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the woman who drowned handcuffed in the back of a deputy’s car.


Meigs County Deputy RJ Leonard was taking Tabitha Smith to jail when his car went into the Tennessee River last month, killing both of them.


Nathan Smith, Tabitha’s son, filed the $10 million lawsuit claiming loss of consortium and wrongful death.


District Attorney Russel Johnson says he can’t comment on the pending case, but confirmed his office is looking at evidence.

He said they are working with the Tennessee Highway Patrol to determine what happened that night and what factors played a role in the “tragic event.”


DA Johnson stated in an email to Local 3 News:

  • “We are awaiting autopsy results on both Leonard and Smith, which may take a while due to the testing of their blood.
  • We are looking at weather conditions, both observed and from the NWS, especially the presence of heavy fog, and other factors involving the route Deputy Leonard took that evening.
  • We are trying to determine the role that poor cell phone service may have played, IF he was using his cell phone for navigation. We know his vehicle did not have navigation.
  • We know that he did not have an in car camera or a body camera.
  • I have asked THP to video the route and to take pictures of existing warning signs in order to compare it to existing information available about prior signage and warning measures that may have been in place at some point in the past that may not have been in place the night of this tragedy.
  • We have done a deep dive into Smith’s prior history relative to arrests, drug use and mental health concerns that MAY have led to her arrest. It would be speculation to try and determine her behavior the night of the arrest and especially her behavior in the back seat of the cruiser that may or may not have contributed to the distractions for the deputy driving on this rural, back road of Meigs County.
  • My office has pulled and provided to THP CIRT the 911 calls and the dispatch calls, including Deputy Leonard’s responses to dispatch and his 10-code check-ins to dispatch.
  • My investigators have assisted THP and THP CIRT with interviews of Smith’s purported boyfriend, 911 callers and folks that have called in “post-incident publicity” claiming to have information.
  • We are awaiting the complete drying out of the modules from the air bag and the ECM that THP CIRT has in its custody for the purpose of determining if they are capable of being analyzed. The same applies to Deputy Leonard’s cell phone that was recovered from his vest after he was removed from the river/lake. We hope these devices provide details, but it is uncertain.
  • We are awaiting the THP CIRT total investigative file that will also include information from the scene relative to marks (if any) on the roadway upon the vehicle’s entry into the river/lake.”