Kendall Oats had a bright future as an athlete. His warm smile and compassionate heart made him a friend to many at his high school, Ravenwood. Devastatingly, a blow to the head with a hockey stick left him with a traumatic brain injury. The ensuing seizures would render him unable to drive for the foreseeable future.
The frustrated sixteen year old began feeling hopeless as his friends started driving. Certain that brain surgery could help, a frustrated young man lashed out at his father in despair.
Believing that Kendall needed extra support, his father sought the help of family court, presided over by Judge Sharon Guffee. The juvenile court judge of Williamson County had many options, one of which was to contact Kendall’s mother, Diane Oates.
Although there had been a recent parental separation, Diane was extremely involved in her son’s life and kept his best interest in every decision. Rather than contacting this well-educated, upstanding citizen of Williamson County, Judge Guffee made a horrendous decision. Well aware that DCS did not have any facilities that would meet the medical needs of this boy, Judge Guffee chose to place Kendall in the care and control of the department of children’s services.
A terrified Kendall arrived at Woodland Hills shortly before his eighteenth birthday. The facility, which was full of violent offenders, was cause for a rapid decline in Kendall’s mental health. This, in turn, exacerbated his seizure condition to the point of debilitation. Untrained to handle this extremely severe neurological condition, the staff at Woodland Hills placed Kendall’s life saving monitor out of his reach.
Diane would fight for her son's release for nearly a year in the juvenile courts. While Judge Guffee claims that she was powerless over DCS, she had legal control of this child and could have ordered his release on any given day. But she did not. And, as a result, Kendall Oates had a final seizure that would take his life. Unable to reach his life saving device and unattended by staff, he died in the worst way imaginable.
"'I’ve been thinking that if that was Kendall’s day to die, why did it have to be there?' she said. 'Kendall should have been with me.'"
- Diane Oates
- excerpts from The Tennessean
“Judge Guffee had control over the legal custody of this child the entire time”
- Connie Reguli
“As a former nurse, Judge Guffee should have known that putting a young man with a traumatic brain injury into a facility such as Woodland Hills would likely kill him.”
- Elizabeth Harris