A district attorney wants a special prosecutor to review complaints against Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson filed by a county commissioner, reports the Times-Free Press. One allegation is that the former state legislator pulled strings to get an inmate with whom he allegedly had a personal relationship released from jail.
County Commissioner Dan Rawls, who has tussled with Watson’s office for months over what he claims is improper and deceptive practices, said he handed over allegations and evidence to 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump’s office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In a statement Thursday, Watson said he is cooperating with the investigation…. “I have done nothing wrong. I have not betrayed my oath or the public trust in any way… ,” he said. “My only agenda will be keeping the citizens of Bradley County safe.”
Among other questions, Rawls asked the investigators to look at whether Watson’s wife, Tenille Watson, is getting favorable treatment as a bail bondsman. Court records for March and April show Tenille Watson, who received her license in February, wrote more bail bonds by herself than the next-largest bonding agency did with three agents.
…The allegation regarding favoritism toward a female jail inmate has been detailed by multiple sources who spoke to the Times Free Press on condition of anonymity. The woman could not be reached for comment.
The newspaper obtained dozens of images of Facebook messages purportedly exchanged by Watson and the woman in the months before she was jailed in July 2015. His identity on the Facebook messages is listed as “Sheriff at Bradley County Sheriff’s Office,” and in one message, he gives her a cellphone number that matches his official sheriff’s office cellphone.
In a December 2014 exchange, the woman posts a picture of herself in a scanty red brassiere, and Watson asks whether she needs to be warmed up. In January 2015, he tells her they should “hang out” and she says she’ll take off work to go on a trip with him.
The images obtained by the Times Free Press continue, including a message at 5:48 p.m. July 6, the date of her arrest on a felony robbery charge, urgently asking him to call her.
County records show the woman was booked into the Bradley County Jail at 7:41 p.m. that day and released at 9:54 p.m., her bond posted by Cumberland Bail Bonds (the company that employs Watson’s wife).
A note on the file states: “Received call from Sheriff Watson stating [the woman’s] bond lowered to 1000 by Judge Randalph [sic] and there is a note on affidavit stating bond is 1000.”
General Sessions Judge Sheridan Randolph remembered the case. He said the warrant originally called for no bond, but someone — he didn’t remember a name — called that evening and asked him for a lesser amount. He said the caller described the woman as a confidential informant.
“Ordinarily I’d probably set her bond at $30,000 the next morning,” Randolph said. “Why he would get so involved is unusual.”
Rawls said his contacts at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office told him the woman “is not an informant, never was, never will be.”
A few months later, records show, the woman was set free just four days into a separate 120-day sentence for violating probation.
The violation of probation charge, for a 2013 DUI, was triggered by the robbery arrest.
Note: See also the Cleveland Daily Banner’s report.