Tag Archives: local government

Three make plea deals in sheriff corruption case

Three people involved in the pending trial on corruption charges against Gibson County’s former sheriff Thursday accepted plea agreements, reports the Jackson Sun.

Former Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Arnold, former Chief Deputy Jeff Maitland, and 10 other former Sheriff’s Office employees were indicted following an investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in late November 2015.

Joel Hughey, Eddie Bradford and Renea Terrell, who were among those indicted, pleaded Thursday to lesser charges. Hughey and Terrell pleaded guilty, and Bradford entered an Alford plea, known as a “best interest” plea.

The three defendants who made plea agreements may be called to testify against others in the case. Arnold, Maitland and the other remaining defendants decided they will go to trial.

Hughey and Bradford were fired from their positions as correctional officers after they were indicted on charges of theft of $1,000 or more and official misconduct. According to a state investigative audit report, Hughey and Bradford were among several employees accused of receiving overtime pay for work they didn’t do.

… Terrell, the contract nurse (working with the sheriff’s department), pleaded guilty to one count of theft and three counts of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud and will serve three years on probation. She must pay $1,339.92 in restitution. Her case is subject to judicial diversion, which means she could have her criminal record expunged if she satisfies the terms of her probation.

Terrell was originally indicted on one count of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud, 39 counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud, 39 counts of official misconduct and two counts of theft

…Arnold is charged with more than 100 counts of official misconduct, theft and obtaining prescription drugs by fraud.

According to the audit report and indictments, Arnold’s official misconduct charges stem from accusations that he took money from a drug fund; forged a receipt; submitted excessive payment requests for himself, Maitland and another employee; authorized excessive compensation for multiple employees; falsified pay records; inflated invoices; and obtained controlled substances by fraud.

Black Caucus backs marijuana decriminalization

News release from TN Black Caucus of State Legislators
NASHVILLE- The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) is announcing its support for efforts in the state’s two largest cities to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Metro Council in Nashville has passed on first reading a new ordinance that would lessen the penalty for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service. Last week, the Memphis City Council passed a similar ordinance out of its Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and it is scheduled to be considered by the full Council in September.

TBCSL Chair Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) said the efforts of these cities go hand-in-hand with Caucus efforts to target criminal justice reform across the state. Continue reading

Nashville political activist Betty Nixon dies, age 80

Betty Chiles Nixon, a trailblazing woman in Nashville politics, a mentor for progressives and a relentless advocate for neighborhoods amid the city’s steady growth, died on Sunday. She was 80 and had suffered from cancer for some time..

Further from The Tennessean:

Nixon served on Metro Council from 1975 to 1987, representing District 18, which includes neighborhoods near Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, and helping spearhead a pro-neighborhoods movement.

Nixon later became the first woman to run for mayor of Nashville in 1987, finishing third behind winner Bill Boner. She ran for mayor again in 1991, losing to the better financed Phil Bredesen in a landslide.

Nixon remained a voice for her home neighborhood well after her public service. As recently as this past May, Nixon spoke at the Metro Council to oppose a proposed apartment complex that she said was out of character with the area.

“Betty Nixon was an amazing woman, leader, and friend who taught our city a lot of lessons about public service, the importance of neighborhoods and the power of women,” Mayor Megan Barry said in a statement.

…Professionally, Nixon worked as assistant vice chancellor for community, neighborhood and government relations at Vanderbilt University before retiring in 2007. She served as chairman of the board of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, a speech and hearing center, and was also a board member for the Nashville Electric Service.

Note: Emailed statement from TNDP Chairwoman Mary Mancini: “We are saddened by the loss of the amazing Betty Nixon. She was not only a role model for women, but for a generation of activists and candidates she befriended and helped with an encouraging word, a bit of sage advice, and an energy that was as boundless as it was invigorating. Her legacy will live on in the work she did for her community, for Nashville and for the state of Tennessee. Our thoughts and prayers are with family and friends and all who loved her.”

De-annexation debate cools in summer study

The hot topic of de-annexation was the subject of discourse by “cooler heads” during a legislative study committee hearing Monday than in the legislative session earlier this year, reports the Tennessean.

Several speakers, including Doug McGowen, chief operation officer for the city of Memphis, said while they have pushed back against the de-annexation legislation before, they aren’t necessarily diametrically opposed to it.

“We are, however, all in on the notion that we should work together to ensure that everyone who has a stake in the de-annexation game has a voice in the process,” he said. McGowen asked lawmakers to use a “locally-controlled, data driven” process that includes all stakeholders.

…Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who chaired the special committee and said the panel had completed its task.

Following the meeting, Ketron said he felt the discussion was helpful, adding, “I think we kinda fleshed out a lot of questions today.”

But Watson disagreed. “I don’t think I heard anything I haven’t heard in the previous roughly 11 hours of testimony while we were in session,” Watson said. “Most of this is ground that’s already been plowed before.”

When asked if he plans to file another de-annexation bill during the upcoming legislation session, Watson said he would take information provided in Monday’s hearing and from the Memphis task force and work on another bill.

“We’re trying to work towards a win-win situation where it’s difficult to create win-wins,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to represent citizens who were put under city government with no voice in whether that occurred or not.”

Sullivan County pays $50K to settle prison newspaper lawsuit

Sullivan County has agreed to pay Prison Legal News $50,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department was censoring and refusing to deliver publications and newsletters to inmates, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Prison Legal News is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based nonprofit organization whose mission is public education, prisoner education, advocacy and outreach in support of prisoners’ rights.

PLN filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in October 2013 naming the county, the sheriff’s department and Sheriff Wayne Anderson as the defendants.

PLN claims the department has been censoring and refusing to deliver its material to inmates held at the jail, including hundreds of copies of its monthly journal and dozens of copies of informational brochure packs.

The Sullivan County Jail used to have a postcards-only mail policy with all other mail, except legal mail, to be returned to sender. No packages were allowed unless approved by the jail’s facility administrator.

…Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street said the matter did not go to mediation. Since the mail policy had been changed and to keep from pulling the sheriff’s department into a trial, Street said the $50,000 settlement was a good way to put the matter to rest.

“We’re pleased that this case has resolved, and that prisoners at the Sullivan County jail can receive letters from their children and other family members instead of having their correspondence restricted to postcards,” said Alex Friedmann, managing editor of PLN. “Many people in jail are awaiting trial, have not been convicted and are presumed innocent, and retain most of their rights — including their rights under the First Amendment.”

Atheists settle lawsuit against TN sheriff for $41K

News release from American Atheists association
Chattanooga, TN—American Atheists and Bradley County and the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office have reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging First Amendment violations of the U.S. Constitution by Bradley County and Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson.

As part of settlement agreement, the new official Bradley County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page will not be used to “promote or further any religion, religious organization, religious event or religious belief.” Additionally, the sheriff’s office has decided to not allow any comments on this Facebook page, making it an informational Facebook page only. The office’s original Facebook page was deactivated earlier this year and will be permanently deactivated.

While the county and sheriff admit to no wrongdoing under the agreement, the county will pay a total of $15,000 in damages to American Atheists and the local plaintiffs, Joshua Stevens and Jane Doe, and $26,000 in attorney’s fees.

“This settlement is a clear win for the plaintiffs, whose First Amendment rights to free speech and to be free of government establishment of religion were infringed upon,” said Amanda Knief, National Legal and Public Policy Director of American Atheists. “We are pleased the sheriff has agreed to do the right thing by no longer using this official government social media account to promote religion.”

“What is unfortunate, is that it took a lawsuit and more than $40,000 in taxpayer money for the county and sheriff to put this common sense policy in place,” Knief added. “We would have preferred that the sheriff allow citizens the freedom to comment and interact with the sheriff’s office on the Facebook page, but we were not able to reach agreement on that during mediation.”

The anonymous Bradley County resident represented by American Atheists added, “I have always said that Constitutional rights are worth fighting for, and I am proud that when tested, I stood by that principle. It was not easy to stand up to the county sheriff and some people in my community who disagreed with me. Despite some negative backlash, I do not regret taking action against government censorship. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you risk losing your rights.”

Sheriff Watson will be allowed to maintain a personal Facebook page that is clearly marked as containing only his personal opinions and not those of the department.

The lawsuit arose in May after Sheriff Watson posted an explicitly religious Easter message on the sheriff’s office’s official Facebook page. American Atheists sent a letter to the sheriff advising against such religious messages on a government-sponsored social media site. The sheriff responded by telling a local newspaper that he intended to be use his position as sheriff to proselytize. After posting the local newspaper article on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page, commenters began criticizing the sheriff’s statements. The sheriff and employees of the sheriff’s department began deleting and blocking critical comments and users who were critical of the sheriff while leaving favorable comments on the governmental Facebook page.

Proposed Nashville ordinance reduces pot penalties

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An ordinance (proposed) in Nashville seeks to reduce the penalty for people caught possessing or exchanging small amounts of marijuana.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2aBZ0QF ) reports that under the new ordinance, people who possess or exchange a half-ounce of marijuana or less would face a civil penalty of $50. A court could also choose to suspend the civil penalty and order 10 hours of community service. Current state law calls for a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year behind bars and a $2,500 fine.

Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg said the current law is time-consuming for police since they have to arrest people over a marijuana misdemeanor. He also called the current state law unproductive and “needlessly expensive.” Continue reading

Comptroller reports on missing government money

News release from state comptroller’s office
Theft and misuse of public money continue to be a concern as outlined in two reports released today by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office.

The 2015 Report of Cash Shortages updates the status of money stolen and missing from Tennessee’s 95 county governments as of June 30, 2015. The report documents money stolen during the 2015 fiscal year, as well as previous fiscal years.

The state’s 95 counties began the last fiscal year with $1,032,456 in cash shortages that had not been recovered. During the fiscal year, $1,069,621 worth of new shortages were detected. Counties were able to recover $1,269,967 through restitution payments, insurance claims or other means. That left a net unrecovered shortage of $832,110 at the end of the fiscal year.

The Comptroller’s office also released its second report detailing cash shortages and other thefts for Tennessee municipalities, internal school funds, utility districts, housing authorities, nonprofits, and other governmental entities. These shortages were reported in fiscal year 2014 and earlier.

Fiscal year 2014 began with a cash shortage of $1,563,137. During the year, $2,546,576 in new shortages were detected. A total of $671,796 was recovered during the fiscal year, leaving an unrecovered shortage of $3,437,917 at fiscal year end. Continue reading

Lawsuit: Bradley deputy wrongfully killed man, lied about it

The family of a 23-year-old man shot to death last year by a Bradley County deputy sheriff has filed a $3 million lawsuit saying he was needlessly killed and charging the sheriff’s office covered up what really happened, reports the Times-Free Press.

When the shooting happened on July 28, 2015, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office said Deputy Tiffany Oakley was assaulted by a stranger and used deadly force to defend herself.

At the time, a sheriff’s office spokesman told the Times Free Press that Oakley was working the night shift and went home for a meal….when someone she didn’t know “stepped out of the shadows and accosted her.”

…However, the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Bradley County Circuit Court states Oakley knew who the man walking through the neighborhood at 2 a.m. was — that she and Allan F. Light III were “very familiar” and “had a friendly relationship” with each other, and that he was on his way either to her home or a neighbor’s.

The suit states that Light “was unarmed and was trying to get away” when Oakley “confronted and attacked” him. The suit claims she fired three shots from her service weapon, hitting him twice, and also shocked him with her Taser.

…Oakley “misrepresented the true facts, denied her previous relationship with, and familiarity with, the decedent and made false and intentionally untrue statements to police officers and investigators and investigating agencies in order to escape responsibility,” the lawsuit states.

Further, the lawsuit claims Sheriff Eric Watson “knowingly joined in and allowed the false statements of the defendant, Oakley, to be unchallenged and proffered statements to the media which were designed to mislead and misrepresent the true facts ”

The suit, filed by attorney Randy Rogers on behalf of Light’s parents, Allen F. Light Jr. and Marlene White, names Watson and Oakley as defendants both professionally and personally, along with Bradley County government. It claims wrongful death and violation of White’s constitutional rights.

…The American Atheists Counsel and a local “Jane Doe” plaintiff sued Watson and the sheriff’s office in May for First Amendment violations over what they said was proselytizing for Christianity on the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page and for censoring comments from those opposed to the religious posts.

The two sides said in a court filing earlier this month they had participated in a successful mediation but gave no details.

Multiple sources told the Times Free Press the settlement involves the county paying an amount in the neighborhood of $40,000 and possibly some kind of monitoring of the sheriff’s office’s social media posts.

Special prosecutor sought in sheriff’s dealings with woman inmate

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.