State: 3 foster children removed from home of Knox Commissioner Jeff Ownby following charge

Jeff Ownby

Jeff Ownby

John McCracken

John McCracken

Greg Isaacs

Greg Isaacs

Jeff Ownby, Knox County Commissioner.

Jeff Ownby, Knox County Commissioner.

Commissioner Ownby leaves Detention Facility

KNOXVILLE — Admissions of foster children to Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby's home have been suspended and three foster children have been removed from the home, according to state authorities.

The state action follows Ownby's arrest Thursday afternoon on an indecent exposure charge on Sharps Ridge in North Knoxville.

Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs said today he had been retained to represent Ownby. He said his client would seek counseling.

"Commissioner Ownby intends to enter a plea of not guilty to the allegation. We are requesting that everyone respect Commissioner Ownby's and his family's privacy regarding this matter," Isaacs said.

The attorney said his client would have no further comment about the arrest.

Court records show Ownby and another man were arrested Thursday after police spotted him having oral sex in Sharps Ridge Park.

Officers arrested Ownby just after 4:30 p.m., according to an arrest warrant.

"The defendant was observed with another male engaging in oral sex with one another," KPD Officer David Munson wrote in the warrant.

"The defendant did not attempt to hide any of his actions from the public."

Ownby, 45, was released from the Knox County Detention Facility later the same evening after posting $500 bond. He did not answer when asked by a reporter if he wanted to comment on his arrest.

Ownby was scheduled to appear in court today, but the appearance was reset to next month.

The first-term commissioner, who represents the 4th District, was one of two men arrested during the undercover sting, according to Knoxville Police Department Capt. Gary Holliday.

John McCracken, 53, of Powell also was arrested on charges of indecent exposure and criminal trespass. He remained in custody at the detention facility Thursday night in lieu of $1,000 bond.

The KPD sting was conducted in response to citizen complaints of illegal activity in at Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park in North Knoxville, police said.

Ownby is a married father of two who has served as a foster parent. He has no other arrests.

Responding to news of Ownby's arrest, Commission Chairman Mike Hammond urged caution until all of the facts are revealed.

"I think it's very important that everyone realize that Mr. Ownby is innocent until proven guilty and that he'll have his day in court," said Hammond. "Secondly, my main concern right now is for Jeff and his family. My heart goes out to them."

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said, "Jeff and his family are in my prayers."

Regardless the outcome of the commissioner's legal problems, Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret speculated that the arrest could have little effect on Ownby's elected office, at least for now.

"The most (County Commission) can do is censure him, publicly denounce him," Jarret said. "A citizen can pursue an ouster lawsuit, most likely filing it under moral turpitude. But it would be a tougher burden to prove if he was not convicted.

"But the commission is powerless to remove him at this time."

Ownby was elected to the West Knoxville district seat in August 2010.

More details as they develop online and in Saturday's News Sentinel.

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