Embattled rep files charges against Republican in House melee

Jones among three Democratic reps facing expulsion action Thursday

By: - April 4, 2023 4:45 pm
Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, outside of Tennessee House chambers on Monday. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, outside of Tennessee House chambers on Monday. (Photo: John Partipilo)

This story has been updated.

State Rep. Justin Jones, facing expulsion for leading a House floor protest against lax gun laws, filed a police report late Monday against a Republican lawmaker who grabbed his phone and allegedly pushed him Monday night.

Jones reported the incident involving state Rep. Justin Lafferty of Knoxville to Metro Nashville Police about 11 p.m. on Monday night, said Kris Mumford, a department spokesperson who declined to release the report because it was an open investigation. 

The incident is categorized as “simple assault,” she said. “He advised he was assaulted on the House floor, his phone was taken from his hand and he was pushed,” Mumford said. “It is going to be assigned to a detective.” 

On Wednesday, Mumford provided an emailed update, noting that the matter is being investigated by the city’s Central Precinct investigative component. “At the conclusion of the investigation, the results will be sent to the District Attorney’s Office,” the update said.

On the House floor, Jones also accused Lafferty of trying to incite a riot.

A scrum between Democratic and Republican lawmakers ensued after the skirmish, and a few minutes later House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons called for action to be taken against Lafferty, saying what happened was a form of “battery” that is a felony offense in Tennessee. House Majority Leader William Lamberth disputed Clemmons’ claim but said any form of assault would not be taken lightly by the House.

Jones, a freshman representative from Nashville, freshman Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis and Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, all Democrats, are targeted for expulsion on Thursday for violating rules of decorum.

The protests stem from demands by thousands of rallying people and Democratic lawmakers for tighter gun laws in the aftermath of The Covenant School shooting in Green Hills where six people were gunned down by a former student March 27.

Lafferty was recording video in the House Monday night when the incident between him and Jones took place. The Republican-controlled body had just voted to consider resolutions to oust the three Democrats for leading protests on the House floor last Thursday.

As people in the balconies chanted “fascists, fascists!” Jones, who also was recording video, put his cell phone near Lafferty’s face. The Knoxville Republican defended his actions in a Tuesday statement.

“Rep. Jones came to my desk and as I turned he shoved his phone in my face in a threatening manner. I reacted as anyone would. Attempts to characterize this as anything else are misleading and false. The three members who are in danger of losing their jobs are desperate to deflect attention away from their actions,” Lafferty said in a statement released through the House Republican Caucus.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton ordered people out of the balconies and also removed press from the chamber when proceedings were interrupted.

“Speaker Sexton did not witness this situation first-hand because he had to clear the galleries of the individuals disrupting the session,” spokesman Doug Kufner said. “However, if any member believes they have been assaulted, they can file a complaint with law enforcement. They can also file an ethics complaint with the House Ethics Committee, and an investigation will occur. These are the established processes to address this situation.”

The House, which has a supermajority of Republicans, would need a two-thirds vote to expel the three members. They would be given a chance to defend themselves in a House hearing, which is expected to be held Thursday.

Pearson wrote a letter Monday saying he could not “sit idly” last week as hundreds of students and parents rallied inside the House chamber and Capitol calling for steps to end gun violence. He argues that neither he nor his colleagues and the people protesting in the Capitol are “insurrectionists.” 

Sexton appeared to call last week’s incident an “insurrection” during interviews during radio and TV interviews but then clarified later that only the three lawmakers committed an “insurrection,” a charge they all deny.

“If this House decides to expel me for exercising our sacred first amendment right to help elevate the voices in our community who want to see us act to prevent gun violence, then do as you feel you must. We must always stand up for what we believe right and just,” Pearson said in his letter.

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial and Best Single Feature from the Tennessee Press Association.