Category Archives: crime

Judge revokes bond, sends Rutherford sheriff to jail

A federal magistrate Wednesday revoked bond for Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold Wednesday and ordered him to jail because of new domestic assault charges brought while he is awaiting trial on corruption charges, reports the Daily News Journal.

“I find sufficient probable cause that Robert Arnold committed (domestic assault against his wife),” U.S. Magistrate Judge Alistair Newbern ruled Wednesday morning.

She also ordered that Arnold be escorted out of her courtroom by a U.S. Marshall, who placed handcuffs on the sheriff’s wrists held behind his back.

Newbern revoked Arnold’s $250,000 bond in the JailCigs case and ruled probable cause exists that the Rutherford County sheriff was involved in a domestic assault against his wife as well as witness tampering.

However, she left opened the possibility of him being released if he resigns from office and agrees to stay away from his wife and Rutherford County deputies.

Second-in-command Chief Deputy Randy Garrett will take charge of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office while Arnold is in jail, County Mayor Ernest Burgess said.

The sheriff will continue to receive his annual salary of $127,078 while behind bars, Burgess said.

“That’s the way I read the state statute,” the mayor said during a Wednesday morning phone interview before Arnold’s federal court hearing in Nashville. “He’s still the sheriff until he is convicted of a felony. When that occurs, he is removed as sheriff.”

State law does provide that an acting sheriff can be in charge whenever the sheriff is incapacitated, such as having to be detained while awaiting trial, the mayor said.

In Arnold’s case, he and his uncle John Vanderveer, and Joe Russell, the Sheriff’s Office accounting chief, face a 13-count federal indictment accusing them of illegally profiting from inmates through the sale of JailCigs, an electronic cigarettes business.

Parole board rejects exoneration of McKinney

The state Board of Parole has voted against recommending exoneration of a Wilson County man who served 31 years in prison on a rape and burglary conviction before DNA evidence cleared him of the crime, reports The Tennessean.

The board, which voted 7-0 not to recommend the formal exoneration to the governor, still questioned his innocence.

Lawrence McKinney, 60, was released in 2009 after his 1978 conviction in Memphis was overturned. His record was expunged after his release, but attempts to get an executive exoneration have been mired in red tape, according to his supporters.

McKinney remained upbeat as his legal team plans to request an exoneration directly from Gov. Bill Haslam. The governor ultimately decides exoneration cases and is not bound by the board’s recommendation.

“I got two good lawyers that God put by my side, then I got a pastor and I got a church who going to stand behind me, and I’m going to do the best that I do to show who Jesus Christ is and I got a beautiful wife …” McKinney said.

Having criminal records expunged is a judicial process, but exoneration is an additional declaration of innocence awarded by the governor. If granted, the exoneration enables a person to file for compensation with the Tennessee Board of Claims.

“We’re going to go to the governor, we’re going to ask the governor to exonerate this man; he is not bound by this decision and I think public support for Mr. McKinney is overwhelming,” said David Raybin, one of McKinney’s attorneys.

McKinney’s hearing lasted nearly four hours and had the feel of a trial. He testified on his own behalf and said he was offered a deal of five years when he was arrested for the rape to testify against a co-defendant. But he turned it down “because I didn’t know anything about the crime.”

McKinney was sentenced to 100 years for the rape and 10 to 15 years for the burglary. Continue reading

No charges in Memphis police shooting black man

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A white Memphis police officer won’t face federal civil rights charges in the shooting death of a 19-year-old black man, the federal government announced Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton told reporters that a federal review found insufficient evidence to file charges in the 2015 shooting of Darrius Stewart by Officer Connor Schilling.

Stanton added that the review by the Justice Department found that Schilling did not willfully or with a “bad purpose” deprive Stewart of his rights.

The Justice Department announced in December that it was reviewing the shooting, which had sparked peaceful protests in Memphis. Stewart’s shooting occurred in the months after the deaths of black men at the hands of police in Missouri, New York and elsewhere aggravated racial tensions in the country. Continue reading

Athens workplace killer had TN handgun permit

ATHENS, Tenn. (AP) — A man who fatally shot two supervisors and then killed himself at an electrical components plant in eastern Tennessee had a state-issued permit to carry handguns in public, law enforcement officials said Friday.

Ricky Swafford, who had worked at the Thomas & Betts plant a more than 15 years, walked out of a meeting with the supervisors and returned with a pistol, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Susan Niland said. Swafford then shot supervisors Sandra Cooley and James Zotter before apparently turning the gun on himself in a restroom, she said.

“There are no appearances at this point that this was anything that was planned,” Niland said. “He did have a meeting with his supervisors, and it was during that meeting that he apparently experienced some agitation.”

Under a state law enacted in 2013, workers with carry permits are allowed to store firearms in vehicles parked at work regardless of their employers’ wishes. Thomas & Betts manager Pat Joyce said the company has an employee policy concerning firearms, but he declined to elaborate. Continue reading

Rutherford sheriff, already facing corruption trial, accused of domestic assault

Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, already facing trial on corruption charges, has now been accused of a domestic violence assaylt on his wife, reports the Daily News Journal.

“The defendant has been accused of domestic assault against his wife, Megan Arnold,” states a pretrial release petition from Kimberly J. Haney, a pre-trial services officer to U.S. Magistrate Judge Alistair E. Newbern.

Rutherford County’s District Attorney General Jennings Jones asked the TBI to investigate the alleged domestic assault after rumors surfaced that sheriff’s deputies had been called to the Arnolds’ Osborne Lane home but did not file a report.

Megan Arnold told the TBI that her husband became violent with her after the couple returned home from a Labor Day party at a friend’s house where he had been drinking, according to the court records. When the sheriff returned home, his wife told the TBI agent, he continued to drink and took an Ambien sleeping pill.

Later, when she opened the bedroom where the sheriff was, “the defendant pushed Mrs. Arnold to the floor and punched her in her right arm near her shoulder,” court records state.

“Mrs. Arnold kicked the defendant, and a struggle ensued,” the court filing continues. “During the struggle, the defendant grabbed a belt and wrapped it around Mrs. Arnold in an attempt to drag her out of the room without leaving marks on her body. Mrs. Arnold slipped out of the belt, and the defendant pinned her on the bed with his body. Mrs. Arnold related the defendant said if he were to place all of his body weight on her that she would stop breathing.

“Eventually, the defendant got up and Mrs. Arnold went to another part of the house,” court records state. “In a recorded conversation between Mrs. Arnold and a third party, Mrs. Arnold stated that she wanted to make a statement to the police, but she is scared of the defendant.”

However, when asked to sign a statement concerning the alleged assault in a Sept. 20 meeting with the TBI, Megan Arnold refused, although she admitted the account was accurate, court records reveal.

…The sheriff his uncle John Vanderveer and Joe Russell, a sheriff’s office accounting chief, face a 14-count federal indictment accusing them of profiting from inmates through the sale of JailCigs, an electronic cigarettes business. The three await a jury trial scheduled to start Feb. 7 before Middle Tennessee U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp in Nashville.

Hamblen County Democratic chair charged with theft

The Hamblen County Democratic Party chairman has been charged with stealing files from the county’s Circuit Court office, reports the Morristown Citizen-Tribune.

Timothy Wayne Woodard, 27, Ponder Drive, Talbott, was indicted Monday by a Hamblen County grand jury for nine counts apiece of illegally removing documents and theft under $500, both misdemeanor offenses.

Woodard, who has graduated law school and recently took the bar exam, is chair of the Hamblen County Democratic Party and a member of the Hamblen County Election Commission, according to Jeff Gardner, administrator of elections.

While prosecutors only presented evidence in nine cases, authorities recovered 57 original files that Woodard allegedly stole, according to Teddy Collingsworth, a criminal investigator with the district attorney’s office.

District Attorney General Dan Armstrong declined to publicly comment on a possible motive in the alleged thefts… Woodard, like anybody else, could have copied the redacted files, which would not have included Social Security numbers and other private identifiers, according to the district attorney.

Armstrong said the criminal inquiry began in early July after Teresa West, Hamblen County Circuit Court clerk, contacted his office.

Woodard worked for the circuit court clerk’s office under a previous administration, but none of the files he allegedly stole were taken while he was working for county government, according to Collingsworth.

Fifty-five of the stolen files allegedly were recovered at a law office in Jefferson County where Woodard was working, according to Armstrong, The other two reportedly were found in the defendant’s brief case.

Nashville council approves pot ordinance 35-3

Nashville on Tuesday became the first city in Tennessee to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and Memphis likely will become the second in two weeks. according to the Commercial Appeal.

The Nashville Metropolitan Council voted 35-3 on final reading Tuesday night to allow police officers to either issue a civil citation punishable by a $50 fine or community service, or charge someone under the state’s criminal law, for possession of a half-ounce or less or marijuana. Under state law, violators are charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.

Earlier in the day, members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators arrived in Memphis to campaign around the city and at City Council for a similar ordinance that received the second of three readings Tuesday before a final vote as early as Oct. 4. The ordinance is sponsored by council member Berlin Boyd.

Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said the caucus she presides over as chairwoman feels the criminal justice system across the state “has gotten out of whack.” The caucus isn’t advocating for legalizing marijuana, she emphasized, but is instead offering a second chance for low-income violators to avoid a cycle of a criminal justice system they perceive as discriminatory to African-Americans.

State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said criminal records for African-Americans associated with small amounts of marijuana thwart the future of a minority middle class.

“In the city of Memphis one of the things we lack is an African-American middle class,” Harris said, later adding: “This is a cycle that we’ve got try to get out of if we’re going to create an African-American middle class.”

Andy Miller company settles Florida fraud claim for $7.75M

The wealthy Republican donor who took campaign money as investments from now-expelled lawmaker Jeremy Durham has agreed to pay $7.75 million to settle allegations he and his brother defrauded a federal military health care program through their pharmaceutical business in Florida, reports The Tennessean.

Andy Miller and his brother Tracy Miller operate Healthmark Investment Trust, which has an ownership stake in a Florida company called QMedRx Inc., according to a settlement agreement from Middle District of Florida U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III.

Bentley’s office accuses the Millers and QMedRx of submitting fraudulent claims for reimbursement from TRICARE, a federal health care program for military members and their families.

The government sought penalties and fines from the owners who participated in the fraud, according to a news release issued Sept. 14.

“The United States attorney’s office is committed to protecting TRICARE and other federal health care programs from fraud,” Bentley said in a news release. “Those who violate the anti-kickback statute to generate business will be held accountable.”

A spokesman for the office declined to comment beyond the information included in the settlement agreement. The agreement — which indicates the settlement is neither an admission of guilt from the Millers nor a concession of a weak case from the federal government — shows the pattern of a kickback fraud scheme.

Bentley’s office says QMedRx violated the federal “anti-kickback statute,” a law that bans the exchange of anything valuable in order to receive a referral for business with a federal health care program. The settlement says people were paid incentives to get from doctors costly compound prescriptions, made through combining several different medications. Those prescriptions were then paid for by the federal government through the TRICARE program.

…Miller said the people who obtained the prescriptions from the doctors were classified as contract workers, and the government said they were employees of QMedRx.

“The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations against QMedRx only, and there has been no determination of liability, but to avoid delay, uncertainty, inconvenience and expense of protracted litigation, we agreed to settle for a portion of our profits,” Miller said in an email to The Tennessean.

…Miller and his family own several health care companies and are big donors for some Republican candidates. That includes Durham, who also invested some of his own campaign funds into one of Miller’s companies. State campaign finance regulators found out about the investment while investigating Durham’s campaign finances, which show a $191,000 discrepancy between his campaign finance report and his bank accounts.

New coalition set up to push ‘criminal justice reform’

Press release from Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice
NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Continue reading

AP story on Nashville, Memphis marijuana ordinances

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Political leaders in Tennessee’s two largest cities are taking steps toward marijuana decriminalization with ordinances that would allow police to reduce the penalty for people who possess small amounts of it.

Nashville’s Metropolitan Council is set to take a final vote on its ordinance on Tuesday, while the Memphis City Council is scheduled to make its decision Oct. 4.

Both cities have similar proposals on the table: Police who encounter people in possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana have the discretion of giving them a civil citation for a $50 fine or community service.

Such a penalty is in stark contrast to Tennessee law, which calls for people caught with a half-ounce of marijuana or less to face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Continue reading