Rutherford Commission names interim successor to jailed sheriff

The Rutherford County Commission voted, 11-0, Thursday to name Michael Fitzhugh as interim sheriff,  replacing elected Sheriff Robert Arnold, who is in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges.

Further from the Daily News Journal:

A former sheriff’s captain, Fitzhugh… beat out runner up Dale Armour, who got 10 votes in the final roll call. In previous roll call votes, former Deputy Chief Virgil Gammon dropped out of consideration after finishing third, and current Deputy Chief Keith Lowery dropped out after finishing fourth.

Fitzhugh said after the meeting that he intends to run for sheriff “if this job doesn’t kill me between now and 2018.”

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” Fitzhugh said. “I would like to continue. I would like to attract good people.”

Fitzhugh has 19 years experience with the sheriff’s office and 25 years in management with BellSouth.

Maury County jail inmate, denied abortion, sues sheriff

A lawsuit seeking $1.5 million in damages has been filed in Nashville against Maury County’s sheriff by a woman who says she was denied the right to have an abortion while in jail, reports The Tennessean.

The woman, Kei’Choura Cathey, was not released until it was too late for the procedure and had the child in April, the court filing says. Her lawsuit alleges Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland illegally denied her access to an abortion, which the nation’s top court has protected as a woman’s right for decades.

… Cathey, also 29, was arrested in July 2015 on robbery and murder conspiracy charges and found out weeks later she was pregnant, according to the lawsuit. Columbia police records say she and three others lured Javontay Garrett to a home to steal drugs and money and then fatally shot him.


Weeks later Cathey told Rowland, via her lawyer, that she wanted to have an abortion, but Rowland responded that he would not provide funding or transportation for the procedure, the lawsuit states. Rowland said that would not happen unless the abortion was “medically necessary to save the mother’s life or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest,” according to the lawsuit.

… The case was filed earlier this month in federal court in Nashville. It argues that the sheriff’s denial, and his failure to have department policies that allowed access to abortions, inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on Cathey in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights. It also says Cathey’s civil rights and 14th Amendment rights to due process were violated.

Bradley sheriff investigated as unlicensed used car dealer

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson is under investigation by Tennessee’s Motor Vehicle Commission for allegedly selling cars without a dealer’s license, reports the Times-Free Press.

The newspaper reported a week earlier that Watson has been buying used vehicles on, an online auction site where governments dispose of surplus and seized items, and then advertised a number of them locally or online on eBay or Craigslist.

The Motor Vehicle Commission wrote separately to Watson and to his dealer, Best Buy Auto and Leasing, on Friday, spokesman Kevin Walters of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance confirmed late Monday. The letters from Motor Vehicle Commission complaints program manager Jason Gilliam enclosed a copy of the Times Free Press report.

…Watson and Best Buy have 14 days to respond in writing, Gilliam’s letter states. The case will be forwarded to the legal division of the Commerce and Insurance department “for review and determination regarding further action, with or without your response,” the letter states.

…This investigation is separate from the six-months-and-counting probe by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation into other allegations against Watson. The TBI said in the Dec. 4 story that investigation remains “active and ongoing.”

…Watson has been a customer at least since he took office in September 2014, buying used vehicles for his patrol and court officers from towns as close as Knoxville and as far away as the Orlando area.

In August, he bought 18 vehicles from Miami-Dade, Fla., and Washington, D.C., through GovDeals. The Times Free Press verified his online bids and received copies of the titles to the vehicles under state and federal open records laws.

Soon cars with vehicle identification numbers matching those titles began showing up for sale in the area. Photos showed cars outside the Benton Police Department in Polk County, in a flea market parking lot on Waterlevel Highway and in a lot next to Watson’s father’s tire shop in Cleveland, among other places. The Tennessee Department of Revenue told the Times Free Press that as of Nov. 30, 11 of the 18 vehicles had been registered in Tennessee.

Note: Watson, before being elected sheriff in 2014, was a state representative and chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee.

High-ranking sheriff’s officer indicted for lying about citizenship

A leader in the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office has been indicted on criminal charges accusing him of lying about his citizenship status to become a police officer, reports the Daily News Journal.

Maj. Terry McBurney was indicted Wednesday on charges of unlawful procurement of naturalization, making false statements under oath in matters relating to his application for U.S. citizenship and wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Tennessee announced Thursday.

The indictment came down the same day as a Tennessee comptroller’s audit alleged McBurney lied and said he was a U.S. citizen to become a law enforcement officer. The criminal case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, officials said.

McBurney is from Ireland and is now a U.S. citizen. But authorities say he broke the law when he lied on his application to become a police officer in 2010 and on several immigration and employment documents since then.

The indictment says McBurney submitted an application for naturalization in September 2015 and, on the application and during an interview in that process, denied he had ever claimed to be a citizen. If convicted of the federal charges against him, McBurney could face prison time of up to 20 years. His citizenship could also be revoked, according to the U.S. Attorney.

Comptroller finds ‘multiple’ violations of law by Rutherford County sheriff

News release from state Comptroller’s office:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has completed its review of numerous problems within the Rutherford County’s Sheriff’s Office. Many of the issues involve Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold and Chief Deputy of Administration Joe Russell, who are currently facing a 14-count federal indictment.

Investigators determined that Sheriff Arnold and Chief Deputy Russell violated multiple state and local laws, policies and procedures by concealing their relationship with JailCigs. JailCigs is a Marietta, Georgia-based company that sells e-cigarettes to inmates, including inmates within the Rutherford County Jail.

Sheriff Arnold failed to disclose his conflict of interest with JailCigs even though he and his wife received a combined $66,790 from the company from December 2013 through April 2015. Chief Deputy Russell received $52,234.41 from JailCigs over that same period. Arnold and Russell also violated county purchasing policies by circumventing the process and failing to solicit bids.

When Comptroller investigators interviewed Sheriff Arnold regarding his conflict of interest, he stated, “The Sheriff is exempt from all policies and procedures.” He could not provide documentation to support his statement.

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Bradley County sheriff accused of mismanagement, misuse of funds

A letter written by an employee of the Bradley County Sherriff’s department, distributed by county Commissioner Dan Rawls to colleagues, accuses Sheriff Eric Watson of mismanagement and misuse of funds, reports the Times-Free Press.

Among other allegations, the anonymous writer said Watson is moving employees into the understaffed jail to “doctor up” the books ahead of a Dec. 7 re-inspection by the Tennessee Corrections Institute. The TCI has said the Bradley County Jail could lose its certification if staffing and maintenance issues aren’t fixed by then.

The letter also alleges Watson forged employees’ names on meal receipts during a law enforcement trip, and that he has paid sheriff’s office employees to go pick up cars Watson bought for himself. It questions why an aide who helped supervise inmate workers at the county garage was replaced by Watson’s sister, who sources told the Times Free Press is listed as the garage’s bookkeeper.

Multiple sources have told the Times Free Press that at least some of those allegations are included in an ongoing investigation of the department by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

…”It’s a very dangerous situation, because it has destroyed the morale of the sheriff’s office,” Rawls said.

Some commissioners said Monday they hadn’t yet seen the letter, which Rawls said he placed in their mailboxes. Several said they were skeptical of anonymous letters and noted that they believed some of the issues raised are in the TBI’s hands.

The writer said the jail is supposed to have 92 officers but had only 64 until a few days ago, when four employees were moved from other jobs to the jail “to ‘doctor up’ the books on personnel for the coming jail inspection.”

“Number #1, you are putting in danger all the corrections officers working inside the jail with that low of a staff number not including the inmates. (Remember, 3 inmates have died in our jail in a year’s time.) Could this be related to the low number of staff on hand?” the letter states.

Other sources have told the Times Free Press a dozen or more sheriff’s office employees have been moved from the fugitive/transport unit, the garage and other positions to the jail.

Rutherford sheriff suspended without pay

A judge suspended jailed sheriff Robert Arnold without pay Monday pending outcome of a lawsuit seeking his removal from office and while he is awaiting a February trial on criminal charges, reports the Daily News Journal.

“The court shall set a hearing shortly to adopt a scheduling order to expeditiously resolve this ouster proceeding,” Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young said in his ruling. “Accordingly, the court finds good cause to hereby immediately suspend Sheriff Arnold from performing any duties of his office.”

Arnold’s salary as the Rutherford County sheriff is $127,078.

In addition to the civil ouster suit, Arnold, his uncle John Vanderveer and Joe Russell, a Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office accounting chief, also face a 14-count federal indictment accusing them of illegally profiting from the inmates the sheriff oversees at the jail in Murfreesboro through the sale of JailCigs, an electronic cigarettes business. The three await a jury trial scheduled to begin Feb. 7 in Nashville before U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp.

Unlike Russell and Vanderveer, Arnold lost his pretrial release arrangement Sept. 28 when U.S. Magistrate Judge Alistair Newbern revoked the sheriff’s $250,000 bond. Newbern, after a six-hour hearing, ruled that Arnold violated his release conditions and found probable cause that the sheriff had committed domestic assault, witness tampering and intimidation of his wife pertaining to a Labor Day altercation at the couple’s Murfreesboro home.

Jailed Rutherford Sheriff Arnold: There’s a ‘hit out for me’

Jailed Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold falsely told his wife on the phone his life is being threatened, according to a Daily News Journal report on documents filed with U.S. District Court by prosecutors.

 “I have a hit out for me now,” Arnold said to his wife, according to the prosecution’s document.

The prosecution contends the sheriff is still manipulating his wife in a court file that’s called an additional response in opposition to Arnold’s Nashville attorney Tom Dundon seeking Arnold’s release. Judge Kevin Sharp will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Nashville to consider whether the sheriff should remain locked up while awaiting a jury trial scheduled to start Feb. 7.

Arnold, his uncle John Vanderveer and Joe Russell, a Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office accounting chief, face a 13-count federal indictment of illegally profiting from the inmates the sheriff oversees in Murfreesboro through the sale of JailCigs, an electronic cigarettes business.

Unlike Vanderveer and Russell, the sheriff lost his pretrial release status when U.S. Magistrate Judge Alistair Newbern revoked Arnold’s $250,000 bond. Judge Newbern found probable cause that the sheriff had committed domestic assault, witness tampering and intimidation of his wife involving a Labor Day altercation at the couple’s home in Murfreesboro.

……The prosecution on Wednesday for the second time quoted additional phone conversations from jail between Arnold and his wife after a previous document mentioned them Oct. 21.

The sheriff told his wife that gang members in jail are hoping to “get their tear drop by, you know, shoving a shank deep into my . . . neck.” the document said. “However, Arnold is asked about the hit by a colleague at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, and Arnold admits to that colleague that, in fact, there is not a hit out on him and that he is just “trying to get Megan, you know, to really try to work to get me the hell out of here.”

The prosecution contends that Arnold’s wife was manipulated into making a recent sworn statement asking for her husband to be released and asserting that she wasn’t harmed.

Former Gibson Sheriff Arnold dodges jail time in plea deal

Former Gibson County sheriff Chuck Arnold has pleaded guilty to more than 20 charges in a deal with prosecutors that will put him on probation for the next 10 years and require restitution payments of over $8,000 but keep him out of jail.

Further from the Jackson Sun:

Arnold, 59, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain a controlled substance by fraud; one count of forgery; five counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud; one count of extortion; two counts of theft of property over $1,000; five counts of facilitation of theft and eight counts of official misconduct.

Arnold and 11 other former Gibson County Sheriff’s Office employees were indicted last November on various charges. Arnold’s indictment included 113 counts. Multiple counts of similar charges were dismissed as part of his plea deal.

Numerous other former sheriff’s employees have trials set in the next couple of months.

…According to documents, an audit showed that between July 2013 and September 2014, drugs were picked up under the names of inmates but never given to the inmates, there were issues in accounting for the drug fund, and there were discrepancies between employees’ pay and the time they worked.

Note: This post should have appeared a week earlier, but, well, better late than never.