David Byrd, a lawmaker popularly known as ‘Coach’ around the capitol, is accused of sexually abusing three of his former high school basketball players, who were 15 to 16 years old at the time of the alleged sexual assaults. One of the victims recently confronted Byrd in a phone call that she recorded, and he can be heard on the recording apologizing for his actions. Byrd has not denied the allegations. Byrd also secretly confessed to his best friend and fellow teacher Michael Edwards that he had inappropriate sexual contact with one of the girls and wanted to take the girl, who was then 15, to a motel.
In late March 2018, three women came forward and told their stories of being sexually abused by Byrd in the 1980s when they were high school students and he was their teacher and basketball coach. In an emotional television interview, one woman described Byrd trying to get her to touch his erect penis in a hotel swimming pool during an overnight trip with the team, saying “I want you to feel how you make me feel. I want you to feel it throbbing.”
Another woman wept as she described the way he allegedly abused her in a hotel on a team trip. She said she got away from him, but later Byrd pulled her out of class and told her not to tell anyone. “He told me not to tell anybody, that he had a wife and a new son, and that nobody would believe me I was just a kid,” she said.
All the victims said that Byrd watched them shower in the locker room at the school. The women expressed regret for not coming forward sooner, but indicated that they felt ashamed and had tried to forget what he had done.
Byrd later became principal of the High School where he coached these women. In 2013, Byrd served as a “character witness” in a criminal hearing for Daniel Doyle, a former coach and teacher who was convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl basketball player at the same school. According to WSMV Channel 4, “The details of Doyle’s crime are similar to the allegations against Representative Byrd from the 1980’s, as first reported by the News 4 I-team. Both men were high school basketball coaches in their 20’s and both were accused of having sexual contact with a female student at their school.” Byrd submitted testimony to the court that if Doyle, a convicted sex offender could teach Byrd would “hire him in a minute” to return to the school.
Despite calls to resign from a numerous Republican elected officials including then-Speaker of the House and Lieutenant Governor, both Republicans, Byrd refused to step down. Senator Marsha Blackburn called Byrd's allegations "disgusting and shocking" and refused to campaign with him. Sadly, Byrd was re-elected in 2018 with the support of incoming House Speaker Glen Casada, who ran ads calling Byrd’s victims “fake news.” Adding insult to injury, Casada went on to name Byrd chair of the House Education Subcommittee.
In February 2019, Casada was caught on a secret tape doubling down on his support for Byrd and saying that rape victims should move away if they are uncomfortable, prompting an outcry and protests by Enough is Enough Tennessee against Casada and Byrd. Casada also falsely claimed he met with Byrd’s victims, something all three of them denied. In February 2019, after members of Enough is Enough Tennessee showed up at the Education Subcommittee meeting to silently protest Byrd, Casada had them removed by State Troopers. When women’s rights advocates attempted to ask Casada about Byrd at public events, Casada refused to appear or fled.
On March 14, Byrd victim Christi Rice met with Governor Bill Lee and asked him to call for Byrd to be stripped of his leadership role and to be investigated for sexual abuse or resign from the legislature. Although Lee called Rice “courageous,” he failed to take any action promoting Enough is Enough to launch a campaign including a billboard on I-65 to pressure Lee to act. After repeated requests, Speaker Casada also eventually agreed to meet with Christi Rice.
On March 28, after more than a month of weekly protests and intense public pressure, Casada finally stripped Byrd of his leadership position. Casada stated that he did so because he had received a letter from Republican and Democratic members of the House ethics committee. However, Casada refused to release the letter, claiming it was “private” even though it is a government document.
On April 1, Enough is Enough TN announced that it would continue to increase its activism for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with the goal of pressuring Governor Lee and Speaker Casada to launch an investigation of Byrd and calling for his resignation. Sign up here [volunteer] to join our effort.