HomeCrimeWidower sues sheriff's department over wife's drowning death

Widower sues sheriff’s department over wife’s drowning death

Tabitha Smith, inset on the left; Deputy RJ Leonard, inset on the right; main image is the river landing near where they perished in Tennessee

Main image: A former landing on Blythe Ferry Lane (Google Maps); Inset left: Tabitha Smith (Selfie); Inset right: Deputy RJ Leonard (Meigs County Sheriff’s Office).

A Tennessee woman drowned while handcuffed in the back seat of a deputy’s patrol car earlier this year. Now, her widower and heirs want the Meigs County Sheriff’s Department to pay for the “failure in training” that led to both the woman’s and the deputy’s death.

Tabitha Smith, 35, was taken into custody for an unknown reason at around 9:50 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. Moments prior, Robert John “R.J.” Leonard, Jr., 35, radioed dispatch about an alleged disturbance on the bridge over the Hiwassee River. By 10:03 p.m., the deputy sent a final radio transmission — shouting “water” as he and Smith drowned.

In March, the dead woman’s adult son, Nathan Smith, filed a seven-count federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Tennessee against Meigs County and Leonard’s estate. On Monday, the woman’s surviving husband, Kenneth Colbaugh, filed a similar lawsuit — adding the sheriff’s department and other defendants. At the same time, Colbaugh and Nathan Smith are pressing dueling claims over who will represent the victim’s interests in probate court.

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