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Woman Suing Deputy, Who Has a History of Performing Anal Cavity Searches During Traffic Stops, for Forcibly ‘Baptizing’ Her During Traffic Stop Found Dead

by Brook Kaufman

A bizarre story out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, captured national attention in 2019 when a police officer stripped down to his underwear and forcibly “baptized” a woman during an arrest for marijuana possession. Last year, Hamilton County Deputy Daniel Wilkey was arrested and charged with more than 40 counts, including rape, sexual battery, oppression, and extortion. Reporting from The Free Thought Project (“TFTP”) at the time said the case was mired in controversy as, during the investigation, the police department supposedly misplaced dash cam footage of Wilkey’s impromptu baptism.

On April 14, however, the case took an even sharper turn when the woman victimized by Wilkey, 42-year-old Shandle Marie Riley, was reported as having been found dead in a home on Log Cabin Lane by Hamilton County deputies. Riley had filed a lawsuit against the department for her treatment during the arrest. The Hamilton County sheriff’s department has since recused itself from the investigation.

“TBI special agents are working a death investigation in Soddy-Daisy, after Hamilton County deputies initially responding to a call [Wednesday night] requested to recuse their agency from the investigation,” Susan Niland, the public information officer for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “District Attorney General Neal Pinkston requested TBI agents investigate the death of Shandle Marie Riley, who was found deceased at a residence on Log Cabin Road. The Hamilton County Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death. The investigation remains active and ongoing at this time.”

Riley’s cause of death is not yet known, though foul play has not been ruled out. According to News 9, Robin Flores, Riley’s attorney, says Riley’s two surviving children could “fill her shoes” as plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit. “If we can meet all these requisites, I fully intend to finish the prosecution of this case in federal court, it needs to be prosecuted,” Flores said. “I think the history of it in the media will show that a baptism by a police officer in the line of duty, in exchange for leniency in a criminal case is beyond the pale.”

As TFTP reported, Wilkey, 28, has since been indicted on 44 charges stemming from allegations of inappropriate behavior and assault during his time as a deputy with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. Wilkey and four other deputies have been named in four lawsuits accusing the officers of misconduct during traffic stops. According to the Associated Press, the alleged misconduct includes forced baptism, groping underage girls, and an illegal, forcible drug search.

In October 2019, Riley announced her intention to sue the Hamilton County government and two Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies, Daniel Wilkey and Jacob Goforth, for stripping and forcibly baptizing her in Soddy Lake during the February 2019 arrest. Riley was pulled over by the two deputies on her way to a friend’s house where her child was staying. She was accused of having methamphetamine, which she did not, and was then forced out of her vehicle before it was searched without her consent. According to the lawsuit, Wilkey physically searched Riley, going underneath her shirt; Riley asked if a female officer could be present, to which Wilkey responded “the law did not require” it.

When Riley told the deputies she had a marijuana roach in her pack of cigarettes, Wilkey called her a “piece of shit” and said she was lying about not having other drugs in her possession. (The search of Riley’s vehicle did not turn up other drugs.) Wilkey then asked Riley about her religious beliefs, telling her that “God was talking to him during the vehicle search, and [he] felt the Lord wanted him to baptize the plaintiff.” According to the lawsuit, Wilkey said he felt “the spirit.”

Wilkey told Riley he would issue her a criminal citation for the marijuana instead of taking her to jail, according to the lawsuit. At Wilkey’s direction, Riley got towels from inside the home and followed Wilkey in his patrol car to Soddy Lake. Goforth joined them there as a “witness” for the baptism. Wilkey then stripped down and performed the baptism. In the lawsuit, Riley said she “felt horribly violated” as Wilkey “led her to waist deep, cold water, put one hand on her back and the other on her breasts, and submerged her underwater for ‘several moments.’”

After all this, Wilkey reneged on his promise and arrested Riley for the marijuana possession. His arrest report of the incident claims that Riley was pulled over for having a dark window tint and that she admitted to having a joint in the vehicle. He did not mention the baptism.

As TFTP reported in October, Wilkey is named in a separate lawsuit over a window tint stop, during which he and another deputy handcuffed an innocent man, pulled down his pants, and performed an anal cavity search (which produced nothing) on the side of the road. The man required surgery to repair his anus.

Wilkey was not fired over either of these incidents, and instead received a several months-long paid vacation before ultimately being charged.

Prior to her death, Riley’s lawsuit was seeking $1,000,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. If found guilty on all charges, Wilkey could get life in prison.

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