Scruggs pleads guilty to aggravated statutory rape

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Outlaw's hands locked in handcuffs isolated on black

John Leslie Scruggs, 43 of Gadsden, pled guilty to three counts of aggravated statutory rape in Crockett County Circuit Court on March 24.

Scruggs is the former Milan High School band director who faced charges out of Milan, Humboldt and Crockett County after a 15-year-old student raised allegations of sexual abuse against him.

Scruggs pled not guilty initially to two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure and sexual contact with a minor by an authority figure in Gibson County for abuse that occurred within the school, four counts of statutory rape by an authority figure for incidents that occurred in Humboldt, and three counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, two counts of statutory rape and two counts of rape in Crockett for abuse that occurred at Scruggs residence.

Scruggs entered into a best interest plea of guilty on three felony counts of aggravated statutory rape on March 24, with all other charges being dismissed.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer McEwen explained, “The act that triggered the police investigation was based upon Sexual Batteries by an Authority Figure reported to have happened at the Milan School.  During the investigation, it was learned that illegal sexual acts also happened in Crockett County and in the Humboldt Court’s jurisdiction. Finally, we learned of the acts that happened in Montgomery County while on a band trip.

“Originally, we charged in separate indictments for our District’s acts. We had a superseding indictment or two thereafter, adding additional charges.  Once we received confirmation that Montgomery County would not be pursuing their case as they – we assume – believed he had sufficient charges down here, we decided to consolidate all four jurisdiction’s worth of cases into one complex indictment under the ‘Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child Statute’ which permits consolidation of offenses across county lines in Tennessee.  Once the consolidation was a true billed by the Grand Jury, we dismissed all other indictments.”

The consolidation became a true bill by the Crockett County Grand Jury on November 16, 2020.

The victim, a minor at the time of abuse, provided a powerful victim impact statement reflecting over the last few years as the abuse occurred, she escaped the abuse, she spoke up for herself, fought for herself and began to heal.

The victim provided permission to The Crockett County Times to share her impact statement with her identity preserved.

For a little shy of three years now, I have thought of writing this statement and imagined what I would say. Now that the time has come for this to be over, it was much harder to gather and organize my thoughts into this statement than I anticipated. Finding a starting point is difficult, as well, simply due to the caliber and consequences of the abuse I suffered. To begin, I would like to thank the court and my support system for giving me the chance to read this statement today. Thank you all for your time, effort, and attentiveness over the past few years—it has certainly been worth it to endure this situation for what is the outcome now.

I was just 15 years old when I was groomed over a period of months. I was tricked, deceived, and mislead to believe the defendant was someone I could trust. He used my weaknesses to get close to me and then turned my trust in him into something inappropriate and unacceptable. He was placed in a position of power and authority over a child and used that authority and my trust to gain sexual gratification. I was isolated from my friends and family over my entire sophomore year of high school because he led me to believe I did not need anyone else. I don’t remember anything but the abuse. Anything at all. I can’t remember what I did, where I went, or who I talked to after the abuse started because my brain simply couldn’t consciously handle the trauma anymore. My entire being froze. I dissociated from reality and began to go through the motions, trying to appease him while also trying to figure out how to get it to stop.

That summer, I was finally able to get enough distance between the two of us to cease contact with him. I remained in band, but that became a painful daily reminder of everything that happened to me. It seemed like every place I looked was somewhere where he had kissed me or sexually assaulted me. His office. The instrument room. The percussion room. The doorway. The middle school band room. The music library. My best coping mechanism was to pretend like it never happened and tell myself to get over it. I blamed myself for what happened for a very long time, and still do occasionally. Blaming myself allowed me to take control over a situation in which I had none. I dissociated from anything related to my trauma and repressed any emotional feelings regarding what happened. Coping like this was the only way I could wake up every day, go to school, and look at and talk to him.

Eventually my unhealthy coping mechanisms faltered. My trauma caught up to me and I started to realize the gravity and severity of what I went through. It was almost as if I had been asleep throughout his abuse, but gradually woke up to what actually happened. What actually happened was that I was raped several times over the course of five months and sexually assaulted more times than I could count. I felt helpless to his demands of what he wanted to do to me and instructions on why I should like what he was doing and where to go so he could continue to do so. After distancing myself enough to make it stop, it was clear that he was not happy that he could not continue to manipulate, assault, and rape me on a weekly basis.

He took out his frustrations on my boyfriend and me. He turned into someone no one could recognize and the entire environment around band had changed. He ignited screaming matches with my boyfriend in front of the band and made note to highlight our mistakes much more than anyone else’s. When it came time to give leadership positions for my senior year of band, he was still working to take away what I had. While I did not get the position I wanted, I told myself to be content with an explanation of why other candidates were better suited for the position. The answer I got was that I “didn’t deserve it,” and “no one thought I deserved it.” At this point, I felt as if I had nothing more to lose, so I said that if he was going to continue to treat me with disrespect, I was going to leave. And I did. Quitting band released any and all control, power, and authority he had over me.

After not being in band, I realized that I needed some kind of closure to this situation. I also wanted to be completely honest with those I was close to, and decided to disclose the abuse to my mom, who reported it to the police. This was the beginning of a nearly three year case that took a much greater toll on my family and me than anticipated.

First, I’ll begin with the ridicule and general attitude of the community toward a girl coming forward about sexual abuse. People took the defendant’s side, claiming he “could never do that.” People called gave me labels like slut, whore, and skank because why else would I have “let it happen” if I didn’t really want it? People let rumors fly like wildfire and created narratives that were not even close to the truth. I lost all of my friends because they chose to believe small talk instead of asking me what actually happened. Others distanced themselves from me because they no longer felt like they knew how to approach me because of me being abused. I felt like I was contaminated. I felt like I was the one who couldn’t show their face in public, while the defendant was being defended by the public. People defamed me on social media, in their own posts, in comments under news articles. Non-stop for months, I could not get onto social media without seeing someone’s post about me, calling me a liar, saying that I deserved it, saying that I came forward for attention and that I fabricated the entire situation. If only.

Second, because of this unexpected response from the community, my classmates, and even the faculty at my school, I had to graduate early. To save my own mental health and try to recover from the initial and secondary trauma of being abused and coming forward about abuse, I needed to get out of what was a daily reminder. Because of this, I had to complete 10 classes in one semester, all while talking to police officers, lawyers, and testifying in court about something I had never even imagined I would speak about. Additionally, I was not allowed to attend my senior prom or speak at my graduation, even when I had fairly earned the position of salutatorian in my graduating class. This was part of the agreement, and I was continually being punished for being a victim. I have had years of my life taken away from me. High school and college experiences I will never be able to have again.

I cannot even begin to depict the kind of mental and emotional toll the past five years have taken on myself and those around me. I have seen several counselors, psychologists, and even a psychiatrist to try to help me feel normal again. I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression. I try my best to live without thinking of what happened to me, but I still get incredibly vivid and horrific flashbacks that are followed by panic attacks. I can’t visit my hometown without feeling an overwhelming sense of dread. I feel as if I took the brunt of the criticism that ensued from this situation, which is unacceptable, but not surprising. I can’t even be touched most of the time without feeling a sense of panic, because every touch from him was intrusive, unsolicited, forceful, and violated physical and mental boundaries. I am forever changed by what happened to me. It is only fitting that he has to live with the consequences of his actions forever, as well.

Navigating this case has not been easy. I have had to make academic and personal sacrifices in order to see this through. There have been many times when all I wanted to do was quit because I wanted so badly for it to just be over. Each time I testified, I felt like my entire healing process was interrupted and set back immensely. Despite how difficult this has been, I do believe my perseverance is worth it. I have sought and found justice for myself and other unnamed women who have had to endure the same trauma. The conclusion of this case and conviction of the defendant is a win for victims of sexual abuse and assault everywhere.

To the defendant specifically, you are getting nothing close to what you deserve. You know what you did, and you know that it was horrific, wrong, and sick. You led me to believe I could trust you, and betrayed that trust hundreds of times. You knew the power and authority you had over me would allow you to do whatever you wanted. You even thought that we could both just “get over it” as time passed, ignoring the fact that you permanently scarred me emotionally and mentally. You took advantage of a 15-year-old’s fragile and extremely formative emotional state and trapped me for several months in your mental and physical abuse. I truly hope you regret and are sorry for what you did. I have so many questions about why me? Why then? Why? Even though I’ll probably never get those answers, I do gain closure today that I could have never gained in any conversation with you. You are facing the consequences for what you did to me, and will continue to face them for the rest of your life. If I have to live with this, so do you. I don’t harbor vindictive or hateful feelings toward you, but forgiveness is something I have not reached yet. That will take me much, much longer. I hope you have learned a lesson—even at my expense.

Barring physical, mental, and emotional hardships, I have persevered throughout this legal process and have healed to an extent that 15-year-old-me would have never thought was possible. I am a junior in college now and have earned an Associate of Science in psychology.

My goals include getting a PhD in clinical psychology and focusing my areas of study on helping young girls and women. I am happy with how far I have come since the beginning of this case, and look forward to how much I will grow after allowing myself to fully heal because of the closure I am getting today. Again, thank you all for listening and allowing me to speak here

As part of Scruggs best interest plea, he was sentenced to 10 years, suspended to 60 days to be served consecutively on weekends and 10 years state supervised probation. He must complete psycho-sexual evaluation and follow recommendations, register as a sex offender for 20 years, maintain no contact with the victim or her family, pay fines and court costs.

“This matter has been pending for over two years and our office has worked hard to get it resolved,” said District Attorney General Frederick H. Agee. “We would like to thank the victim for her patience and strength while going through the criminal justice process. Our office is obligated by the State Constitution to discuss case settlements with victims and we have included the victim in resolving this matter. We would like to thank our Assistant District Attorney, Jennifer F. McEwen for aggressively prosecuting the case for our office. We would also like to thank law enforcements officers Maigon Shanklin, Dennis Mitchell, Chad Autry, and Roy Mosier. This was a combined effort by the Milan Police Department, Gibson County Sheriff’s Department, and Crockett County Sheriff’s Department. The plea agreement holds Scruggs accountable over the next 20 years for his actions and includes recidivism reduction measures.”

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