With a federal probe of the Hamilton County jail serving as a backdrop, the two candidates for sheriff Wednesday sparred over who knew what and when about corruption at the jail.
Sheriff John Cupp, seeking a second four-year term, told a Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce group that he went to the FBI about his concerns at the jail when assuming the top law enforcement post.
"We were justified in doing what I did," he said. However, challenger and former longtime Chief Deputy Jim Hammond said then-Lt. Cupp should have reported questionable activity in the department if he knew years ago.
"If Cupp had known, he was remiss if he didn't say anything before," said Mr. Hammond.
Sheriff Cupp said he did talk with then-Chief Deputy Hammond about steroids activity by former Deputy Lonnie Hood when the man oversaw the sheriff's department gymnasium.
"We did know about it at that time. A lieutenant doesn't tell the chief deputy what to do," he added.
Mr. Hammond said he and then-Lt. Cupp never had the conversation. "Your mind is slipping," he told Sheriff Cupp at the chamber debate.
Former Deputy Lonnie Hood and six others have been charged in connection with illegally distributing steroids or with other crimes, and more related indictments were unveiled Wednesday.
Mr. Hammond said Sheriff Cupp's moving of Hood from the gym to the jail was like "putting the fox in the hen house."
He added that only three people in the 350-man department have been charged with a crime. "That doesn't look like mass corruption," said Mr. Hammond.
On other issues, Sheriff Cupp cited the overcrowded jail, saying it is certified for 466 prisoners but routinely holds up to 620.
"We're going to have to do something about that," he said.
The sheriff mentioned the upgrading of the fingerprinting and mug shot photographing systems under his watch and creation of the domestic violence task force.
Domestic violence homicides, once averaging one a month, have fallen to just one on the past 12 months, said Sheriff Cupp.
Mr. Hammond said his focus, if elected Aug. 6, will be on stopping gangs, school violence, juvenile delinquency and drug use.
He said he will help start a countywide database on gangs, and he'd lead a task force to reduce school violence.