How Tennessee Protects Child Abusers

While claiming to love kids.

How Tennessee Protects Child Abusers
Governor Bill Lee (left), Senator Jack Johnson and wife Judge Deanna Johnson with Donald Trump (right)

While claiming to love kids

Ask any politician in Tennessee about the sanctity of life, and they’ll surely tell you: life matters.


As a transplant from Minnesota who’s spent nearly ten years in the Volunteer State, I’ve found nobody who talks more about their belief that all human life is sacred than our policy-makers.

Down here, that means passing as many prohibitions against abortion as they can while preserving easy access to firearms. Or providing paltry aid to a fraction of its needy families, while taxing necessities like groceries as much as ten percent.

Our leaders talk a lot about being tough on crime, but we have some of the highest rates of violent crime in America.

They talk even more about protecting children.

Looking at their policies in action, I often wonder who they’re protecting anyone from, and whose crimes they care to punish.

Tennessee lawmakers say they must protect our kids from certain books and drag performances. From transgender teammates.

As the mother of a nine-year-old daughter, I see politicians offer up scapegoats and distractions when I care about fighting gun violence and abuse in our schools or churches. I care about education, healthcare, and a better quality of life. Racism, sexism, and domestic violence.

I worry about community leaders who behave more like wolves in sheep’s clothing, and officers who abuse their power.

Our lawmakers say little about those issues, yet insist they’re all about protecting parental rights.

And our kids.

Sophie’s doctor’s office recently advised that HB1380/SB11 prevents step-parents, foster parents, and other caregivers (including DCS) from providing consent for a minor’s vaccinations. Now, only biological parents and legal guardians can give consent.

Thanks to Governor Bill Lee, I may need to file multiple vaccine release forms. Sophie’s Nana can no longer take her out to get a shot unless I’ve previously provided written permission to each business where she might possibly have one administered in the future. No emergency tetanus shot in case of an accident while I’m traveling for my own medical care. No impromptu flu shots wherever it happens to be convenient if I’m ill or having a flare-up.

While that may not be an enormous deal for us, I wonder how other children will be impacted.

The new law brings concerns. Lots of parents down here don’t vaccinate their children, especially in the past two years. Teenagers struggle to get shots when their parents say no.

Biological parents may be unavailable to provide consent, say parents who are consumed by addiction, crime, domestic violence—even a mental or physical illness and disability.

Not all children have a legal guardian. They might fully rely upon a grandparent, sibling, or other caregiver who hasn’t been legally appointed. A myriad of reasons might now prevent more children from getting vaccinated.

How will all of that impact immunocompromised kids who depend upon the vaccination of their peers?

Unvaccinated children in need of a stable home will find it even more difficult to get foster parents, as vaccination is frequently (and sensibly) required.

Many more children will fall through the cracks of an already broken system, the department of child services (DCS).

Last year, whistle-blowers began telling our lawmakers and media that DCS, Tennessee’s child welfare system was in shambles. For anyone who knows its history, or anyone who’s witnessed a child in crisis here, I doubt that’s much of a surprise.

As The Tennessean reported earlier this year, DCS began operating in 1996, but it quickly came under fire with a class-action lawsuit in May 2000. As a result of the suit, filed by a children’s rights non-profit, DCS would remain under court monitoring to meet 141 performance-specific requirements.

That monitoring lasted nearly 20 years. In February 2019, it was finally determined that DCS no longer needed a babysitter to do its basic job and take care of children in crisis.

The department sputtered along for a few more years until the release of its abominable state audit last fall.

In 2021 alone, DCS failed to investigate dozens of reports of sexual abuse and harassment. The same year, it refused to look into reports of supposedly consensual sexual activity among its minors in state facilities.

The audit also revealed that DCS had been shockingly short-staffed for years: not only was it unable to respond to countless reports of child abuse, but it couldn’t even find homes for several hundred children under its care.

Tennessee’s most vulnerable kids fell through the cracks at every stage of DCS involvement, and for many whose cases were touched, the lack of an appropriate residence meant they languished, in limbo, inside state facilities.

Facilities like hospitals. Even DCS offices.

High-risk, potentially unvaccinated kids living in state-run hospitals, under the care of a wildly short-staffed department that’s long failed to provide appropriate guidance or supervision?

I sadly wonder how many of those kids would have been better off without DCS.

Governor Lee and his fellows often talk about their commitment to children’s rights and safety.

Is that why they’re loosening child labor laws? As of this year, 16 year olds get to work at restaurants where more than a quarter of sales come from alcohol. They don’t need a server’s permit either, which would require education on alcohol responsibility and dealing with drunk patrons, because the law states they won’t be taking or serving alcohol orders.

I’d like to see how that's enforced in real life.

Work permits are not required for children in Tennessee. They may legally begin working for three hours a day at age 14 without parental consent. It’s a bit strange coming from leaders who say they protect kids and parental rights.

Perhaps their need for cheap labor takes precedence over either commitment.

Yes, Tennessee is all about child welfare — isn’t that obvious?

Consider HB 7007, filed by Representative William Lamberth, and SB 7090, filed by Senator Jack Johnson.

Since 2018, Tennessee lawmakers have tried and failed to make most autopsy records private. Now, Lamberth and Johnson are using the tragic Covenant Elementary school shooting to finally make headway.

They say nobody but a child’s parent should decide if their autopsy might be available to the public. Why? Because an autopsy report might contain sensitive information that a family would prefer to keep hidden. Particularly in the event of a violent crime.

That’s right, folks. This bill will only seal the autopsies of children who die in violent crimes. In the wake of the Covenant tragedy, forget preventing school shootings. Let’s make more documents inaccessible to the public, and prevent further questions.

They say they’re protecting privacy, but won't they wind up protecting family and community secrets like child abuse?

What about minors who are killed by their own parents, relatives, or so-called loved ones who escape initial suspicions?

What about cover-ups?

These are not far-fetched concerns. There is a well-documented downside to making such autopsies private.

Access to autopsy records offers a vital level of accountability — not only for parents, caregivers, and community leaders, but also for our government agencies, law enforcement, and officials.

Some violent murders have been solved and prosecuted because people accessed public autopsy reports. Cold cases have been cracked thanks to the availability of such public records.

When a child dies violently, there's no guarantee our agencies will give them the due diligence of an investigation. Even with a "proper" investigation, that doesn’t mean the culprit will be prosecuted.

Violent deaths in Tennessee are supposed to receive a medicolegal investigation to confirm the cause and method of death. Did you know that the US has zero national standards for these investigations?

Most states require little or no training to become a coroner or medicolegal death investigator. The office of death investigations isn't accredited.

Americans watch so many crime dramas that we think proper investigations and autopsies are standard, and that the departments handling them are well-oiled machines when many states or counties are sharply limited by small budgets and staff shortages.

It sickens me that our politicians are using grief-stricken families to potentially cover up future violent crimes against children.

Are these lawmakers even trustworthy with our kids?

I have far too many reasons to say no.

Tennessee has a major problem with child abuse. Our lawmakers have dropped the ball and become extensions to further child suffering. Our lawmakers protect abusers within their own communities.

Look at Senator Jack Johnson. He’s still praising Trump on X (Twitter) and demanding we build a border wall to protect children from violent sex crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, he’s done nothing to fight violent sex crimes against children in his own church.

Gov. Bill Lee and Sen. Jack Johnson’s policies are of particular interest to me because both men have been members of Grace Chapel, the Franklin, Tenn. church that sent me a cease-and-desist letter to squash Gracie Solomon’s horrific (and on-going) testimony of child abuse.

You might be familiar with Franklin from its bizarre mayoral race, and Williamson County's growing political influence. It's a hotbed of Far Right extremists.

Both Gov. Bill Lee and Sen. Jack Johnson are buddies with the church’s founding Pastor Steve Berger, who also covered up the Solomon children’s cries for help.

Tennessee loves children so much that every citizen is a mandate reporter.

When Grant and Gracie Solomon approached Chapel and Grace Christian Academy leadership for help from the abuse they said their father Aaron inflicted upon them, those leaders had a legal obligation to take them seriously.

They were mandated to report the abuse.

Instead, school and church leaders covered for Aaron, shamed the children, and vilified their mother.

They still welcomed the abuser into their community after complaints that he inappropriately messaged students, after his daughter won an order of protection against him, and even after he became his child's substantiated perpetrator of sexual abuse.

They participated in Aaron’s attacks against his family. When Aaron first began using the courts to alienate Angie and take control of their children, these leaders parroted Aaron’s lie to parents and staff that Angie was off at rehab.

Angie Solomon was never in rehab, but she had been working with Dr. Michael Reed to safely exit her abusive marriage with both children. Their careful plans were interrupted when Aaron found Angie’s notes for Dr. Reed on her phone in 2013.

The former Nashville news anchor swiftly waged war against his wife and used the Tennessee courts and Grace Chapel community to seize custody of the children and make Angie, a Doctor of Pharmacy, a social pariah.

Angie took meticulous notes. I have three binders filled with just some of her documentation.

She kept records of Aaron’s abuse for years, and she documented when school and church leaders lied for his benefit. Angie had statements from Dr. Reed and other mental health professionals who not only vouched for her sanity and fit parenting, but they were adamant that Aaron was abusive and they feared for the family’s safety.

Despite such overwhelming evidence, Tennessee courts sided with Aaron and told Angie her claims were unbelievable. Senator Jack Johnson’s wife, Judge Deanna Johnson, yet another Grace Chapel member, eventually declared the family’s claims of abuse to be meritless.

All Angie, Grant, and Gracie wanted was to live together, free from Aaron’s physical, mental, and sexual abuse, his demand for control, and frighteningly erratic behavior.

But in 2019, Judge Johnson barred Angie from filing future civil actions against Aaron for six years — as long as their youngest child Gracie was still a minor.

Judge Deanna Johnson’s poor judgment had tragic consequences that would change Angie and Gracie’s lives forever.

Once Judge Johnson silenced their mother, Grant became determined to fight Aaron in court when he turned eighteen.

Their school, church, and DCS all failed to stop the abuse, and Judge Johnson ensured their mother could no longer fight it in court.

Grant hoped a judge would listen to him as a man, but we’ll never know if his voice would have been heeded in a courtroom.

He died in July 2020, just five weeks after his eighteenth birthday, after driving an hour away to meet Aaron for baseball practice.

Aaron was the lone witness to his son’s death.

Grant didn’t want to see his father that mmorning. He hadn't even lived with his dad for two years. He’d recently recovered from COVID, was dealing with asthma, and said he wanted to wait to play ball until he felt stronger. Aaron ignored those concerns and insisted over text message that Grant come to Ward Performance Institute anyway.

If you're perplexed why Grant chose to meet his father, that was his way of protecting his family.

For years, Grant would try and appease Aaron to protect his sister from further harm. No one had successfully protected them — not when Aaron tried to kill Angie in 2013, and not when he raped his 11-year-old daughter.

That forced Angie and the children to fend for themselves. They did whatever they could to survive Aaron’s abuse and spend whatever time they could together.

That terrible morning, Aaron never gave his son the decency of a final goodbye. He never went down to check on Grant, to help him or offer comfort — not even when the 911 operator urged him to do so.

All Aaron did was call 911 (within minutes of Grant’s arrival to that parking lot) and say his son must have been dragged into a ditch by his own truck.

Grant didn’t get an air-lift to a better hospital despite his critical status. There would be no autopsy after he was declared dead at the regional medical center. Aaron refused both services.

Why was the subject of multiple child abuse allegations allowed to make such decisions on behalf of his adult son?

When a child turns eighteen, legal adulthood means they’re covered by HIPAA. Parents don’t get access to medical records or make medical decisions without previous written permission from their adult child.

How did Aaron repeatedly circumvent the system?

When Angie arrived at the hospital, no doctor would even talk to her. Nobody told her that her son had died. She had to figure it out on her own.

Grant never got the justice of a proper investigation. Gallatin police didn't contact the Tennessee Highway Patrol despite their jurisdiction over the site of the incident.

They didn't contact DCS despite an open case against Aaron. They took Aaron’s word about what happened and spent less than an hour investigating.

Officers couldn’t even be bothered to retrieve all of Grant’s personal belongings from the scene for his family.

They didn’t order forensic or diagnostic testing of the truck Aaron claimed must have been faulty. Aaron declined testing, but continued to drive Grant’s truck for several more months.

For a man who pushed his son to be there despite legitimate health concerns, Aaron never expressed regret that his son died that day. In fact, Aaron’s strange speech at the memorial called Grant’s death "a godly thing."

Gracie lost her protector the day Grant died.

She was petrified because the courts kept giving Aaron custody. With Grant gone, she’d have to live alone with her rapist. Gracie knew she couldn’t run away from Aaron forever, but after Judge Johnson’s ruling against Angie and her brother’s death, the court was seeking reunification.

That’s why she turned to YouTube for help in 2021. At just 14 years old, Gracie bravely gave her testimony about a lifetime of abuse perpetrated by her father.

She accused Aaron of murdering Grant to protect himself from his son’s testimony in court. She accused Grace Chapel and Grace Christian Academy of failing to act when she and her brother begged for their aid.

In January 2022, Aaron was substantiated as Gracie’s sexual abuser for years of abuse which Judge Deanna Johnson previously called meritless.

Judge Johnson added immeasurable suffering to a family in crisis. Without her 2019 ruling that sided with an abuser, Grant Solomon likely wouldn’t have died that morning in Gallatin.

And Gracie wouldn’t have felt forced to turn to YouTube.

Today, Aaron Solomon is still a free man, and he has not been prosecuted for any crimes against his children.

How can people like Judge Deanna Johnson, Senator Jack Johnson, and Governor Bill Lee let child abuse go unpunished? Not just in their own state, but within their own church community? What happened to Angie and her children led to years of gossip and drama in these politicians' place of worship, and in the private school where their own relatives were enrolled. They were never unaware.

Despite growing complaints across the country, Gov. Lee has refused to step in and push for any further investigation when he knows the sorry state of DCS.

That figures.

Lee's office had the latest State of the Child report altered to sound more hopeful. Gov. Lee even fought to axe the state's children's commission after they reported that “Tennessee had the nation’s highest rate of foster care instability in the nation.”

Gov. Lee loves kids so much, but he’s got no shame in covering up the state’s many failures to provide critical care to its children in crisis.

People keep asking how all of this could have happened to Gracie and Grant, but isn’t it obvious?

Tennessee is broken. Tennessee protects abusers. Our politicians have much to say about child abuse as long as they suggest it’s coming from non-Christians, feminists, or the LGBTQIA community.

But abuse within Christian schools and churches? That’s quickly covered up.

The Solomon case highlights deep, disturbing cracks within Tennessee’s facade that life is sacred here.

One DCS worker described being reprimanded for simply working on the Solomon case, and how her supervisor hindered the investigation by refusing to take allegations against Aaron seriously.

That same supervisor chose to publicly defend Aaron before and after Grant’s death.

A guardian ad litem for the children said she never saw such a high degree of control exerted over any children as the abuse she witnessed from Aaron, and that Grant called her several months before his death, saying he feared for his life.

Between November 2014 and February 2018, the Tennessee court of appeals also fully reversed eight of Judge Deanna Johnson’s judgments, and partially reversed two others.

Her Brentwood Academy judgment meant to silence another sexually abused child was fully reversed, but I still think about her poor judgments that will never see an appeal.

I think about the ways she, her senator husband, and governor buddy have all gotten away with protecting or enabling serial abusers within their church communitiy, and other Christian communities around Nashville for years.

Ask any politician in Tennessee about the sanctity of life, and they’ll surely tell you that life matters.

Life matters so much, that whenever a child loses their life to a violent crime, these politicians want the ability to cover up and reframe the facts to sound... better.

Follow me on to stay updated about the unfolding nightmare in Tennessee and our fight to get justice for Grant Solomon. 

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