His mentor arrived in a limousine to usher him into office, but when Billy Long left 17 months later, he was alone in the back of a patrol car.
Former Hamilton County Sheriff Long’s stint as the top law enforcement officer in the county, overseeing about 400 employees, is the story of an underdog who worked his way to the top for years only to fall instantly with his arrest on federal charges last weekend, friends say.
“I think you’ve got to say the power affected him,” said Don Gorman, a personal friend since 1985 whom the sheriff appointed as his director of administration. “It was so much, so fast.”
At Mr. Long’s September 2006 swearing-in ceremony, his former employer, ex-Sheriff H.Q. Evatt, arrived in a white stretch limousine, escorted by four motorcycle officers. Mr. Evatt had endorsed his fellow Democrat and a one-time Army paratrooper during the campaign to unseat Republican Sheriff John Cupp.
Last weekend, Mr. Long surprised many friends and associates when accusations surfaced that he had abused his hard-won authority. He now faces federal charges of extortion, money laundering, giving a gun to a convicted felon and possessing 5 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride with intent to distribute.
Stuart James, a former Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman who calls himself one of Mr. Long’s closest political advisers, said the sheriff “wasn’t a guy who I thought was into all the trappings of a high-ranking political official.”
“Except for what happened, he probably would have been the greatest sheriff Hamilton County has ever had,” Mr. James said. “I have no idea what went wrong.”
THE CHATTANOOGA NATIVE
William Horace Long, 55, was born at Erlanger hospital on April 25, 1952. He grew up in the Lookout Valley area and attended Central High School in Harrison, graduating in 1970. He later earned his associate’s degree from Cleveland State Community College.
Both of Mr. Long’s parents have died, as have his two brothers, who died of cancer within about six months of each other, according to Mr. Gorman, who served as the best man in Mr. Long’s second wedding. His sister, Wanda, still lives in the Chattanooga area, Mr. Gorman said.
Mr. Long has two adult sons by his first wife and a stepdaughter and stepson with his current wife, Joy, who works as a nurse at Erlanger.
One of his sons, William A. Long, was arrested by Signal Mountain Police on a marijuana charge shortly after his father was elected in August 2006, records show.
Family members declined to speak with reporters during a hearing for Mr. Long in U.S. District Court on Friday. Longtime friend Perry Perkins, who assisted with Mr. Long’s campaign, also declined to comment, citing a request from defense attorney Jerry Summers.
“If anybody’s going to make statements, it’s going to be me,” Mr. Summers said during an interview last week.
Mr. Long lived in a modest East Brainerd home, having purchased his 2504 Cedarton Court residence in September 2002. The 1,746 square-foot residence is worth $138,900, according to records on file with the Hamilton County Assessor’s Office.
The family attends Woodland Park Baptist Church and in their free time enjoy riding motorcycles, according to Mr. Gorman, who said Mr. Long, his wife and stepdaughter all own one.
Mr. Long, a member of the sheriff’s department’s original motorcycle squad, is active in the Harley Owners Group. He rides often, according to Mr. Gorman, who said he had plans to ride with Mr. Long the day of his arrest.
Gambling was another hobby of Mr. Long, he said.
“It was a passion, but I don’t think it was a problem,” he said, indicating Mr. Long liked visiting casinos in Las Vegas and Tunica, Miss., and especially liked playing the slot machines.
Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Ron Durby said he, too, had heard about the gambling trips.
“It was all legal gambling, as far as I know,” Judge Durby said.
Mr. Gorman was unaware of any gambling debts or other financial troubles for Mr. Long.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chattanooga does not have any record of filings for him.
“He didn’t behave like a gambler to me,” Mr. James said. “He never wore fancy watches or clothes or anything.”
Mr. Long worked as a laborer in Chattanooga before applying for a job at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department in June 1974, according to his personnel file.
He also worked as a shift dispatcher in the communications division for a year and was transferred to the main control center of the jail, where he worked for another year. He graduated from the Chattanooga Police Academy in 1975, records show.
Mr. Long worked in patrol and later the traffic division before being promoted to patrol sergeant in 1988, according to personnel records. He was promoted from patrol sergeant to patrol lieutenant in 1999 after receiving the highest score on a promotion test, records show.
Mr. Long was assigned to community and court relations in 2004 and was a lieutenant over court security officers when he retired in 2005 as a 31-year department veteran making $44,686 a year. The retirement allowed him to run for sheriff against 12-year incumbent — and his former boss — Mr. Cupp, whom he beat in a close race in August 2006.
His personnel file includes about 50 letters of commendation, including several from former sheriffs Mr. Evatt and Mr. Cupp.
Mr. Long’s evaluations describe him as a “good supervisor” who observes policy and “strives to set a good example.” Evaluations indicate he met or exceeded duty requirements, made confident decisions and excelled in working with others.
Supervisors said he “deals tactfully with both lower and higher authority” and in 1994 called him “a credit to the sheriff’s department.”
He has undergone numerous training courses, records show, receiving certification to become a police motorcycle instructor in 1984 and a field training officer in 1998.
Mr. Long appears to have been charged twice with conduct unbecoming an officer and in both instances was exonerated.
In 1980, allegations of rough treatment while working an off-duty security job at Roller Disco did not result in any discipline. Mr. Long “acted in line with standing orders” while trying to escort some boys out of the establishment, records show.
The second charge stemmed from an entry into a Bonnelia Circle residence in 1990. Mr. Long’s then-supervisor, Lt. Wayne Syler, allegedly ordered Mr. Long to come to the residence on his regular day off to help him search for a suspect for whom he had a warrant, records show.
But police officials discovered the officers did not have a search warrant. Lt. Syler, who was accused of causing extensive damage to the residence, was charged criminally and left the department, records show. Mr. Long was “cautioned in regard to entering a dwelling without a search warrant,” while all five of the other officers believed to have taken part in the search were disciplined, according to personnel records.
Mr. Long was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1976 after receiving the National Defense Service Medal as well as a good conduct medal, a parachute badge and designation as a pistol expert and sharpshooter with an M-16 rifle, records show.
In 1991, he served in Operation Desert Storm with the 196th Field Artillery Brigade of the Tennessee National Guard. He retired from the Guard in 2003 as a first sergeant, Mr. Gorman said.
Chattanooga attorney Robin Flores worked with Mr. Long in the National Guard from 1995 to 1998 and again from 2001 to 2002.
“I’d say he was a fair, by-the-book first sergeant,” said Mr. Flores, who was assigned as a battery commander’s driver under Mr. Long.
“He was a good guy to work for in the military,” Mr. Flores said, explaining that as a leader, Mr. Long “deferred a lot to those he knew knew what they were doing. ... If he trusted you, he would leave it up to you.”
Mr. Flores, who has worked in the criminal justice field since 1985 as a police officer and criminal defense attorney, said he believes he would have been able to pick up on any questionable character traits in Mr. Long while working so closely with him.
“I think that there would have been some hints of sleaze,” Mr. Flores said, but “there was never any kind of dirtiness. ... Not one trace.”
His record of service led to his induction on Jan. 12, 2008, to the Order of St. Barbara, an honorary military society of the U.S. Field Artillery, according to National Guard officials.
Mr. Long’s successful run for sheriff in August 2006 was a surprise to some, according Mr. James, who helped springboard Mr. Long into office.
“I thought he was nuts when he wanted to run for sheriff, because Sheriff Cupp (a 12-year incumbent) was so entrenched,” Mr. James said.
But his determination prevailed, said Mr. James, who recalled Mr. Long announcing his intent to run for sheriff with gusto: “He said, ‘I know what I want out of life, and this is it.’”
Mr. Long also had a talent for reaching all factions of the community, according to Mr. James.
“When I went to his victory party, I was amazed at how many Republicans were there,” he said.
Part of the reason people connected with Mr. Long was that he appeared so real, Mr. Gorman said.
“People really liked him, because they looked him right in the eye, and they believed he was sincere,” he said.
Mr. James recalled Mr. Long having “a large political organization” during the campaign. He said he was never aware of “any other money coming in” other than legal, on-the-books contributions.
Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis Adams said Mr. Long was well received by county commissioners, who agreed to fund 14 more vehicles requested by the sheriff. During his term, the sheriff not only bought new vehicles for more deputies but also a 24-foot, $100,000 Boston Whaler to patrol area waterways.
“The commissioners liked Sheriff Long, and for the most part, we gave him what he wanted,” Mr. Adams said. “That’s why this is so disappointing and upsetting to all of us.”
When the sheriff took office, and his salary jumped to $104,000 — and later $108,000 after a raise — the public was as pleased as elected officials, Mr. James said.
He pledged to support the rank and file, opening the door for deputies to join the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the local union that had given him $2,000 during his campaign.
Just five days before his arrest, Mr. Long campaigned for former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in the waning hours of Mr. Edwards’ failed presidential bid, calling the candidate a person “who stands for the working man.”
John “Bucky” McCulley, a member of the sheriff’s civil service board for the past four years, said he “thought (Mr. Long) was doing a good job. ... I honestly thought he was pulling the department together.”
The board, a civilian panel that reviews personnel changes to protect employee rights, had chastised the sheriff for disrespecting hiring regulations shortly after taking office.
In October 2006, Mr. Long was ordered to fire three employees — Penni Kimsey, wife of traffic investigator Sgt. Mark Kimsey; Mr. Gorman; and Ron Parson, a retired Chattanooga police officer now serving as director of law enforcement services — and rehire them according to policy.
The board also chided Mr. Long in September 2007, ruling that he was not allowed to abolish the rank of captain within his department because it appeared he was doing so for personal reasons. Abolishing the rank would have demoted Capt. David Hamby, whom former Sheriff Cupp had called integral to his administration.
Mr. McCulley said last week that he “didn’t like the way (Mr. Long) treated Hamby,” but noted that all administrations change when a new sheriff is elected.
“When you first come in, you want your people in,” Mr. McCulley said, noting that under civil service rules, the sheriff can hire whomever he pleases and does not have to choose the most qualified applicant.
“It’s political,” he said. “That’s the way it’s always been.”
But no one was promoted without being qualified, according to Chief Deputy Alan Branum, who is running the department until the Hamilton County Commission names an interim sheriff.
Mr. James recalls Mr. Long wanting to avoid looking “like I’m surrounded by a bunch of cronies.”
Chief Branum said he doesn’t believe Mr. Long’s choice to make him chief deputy was based on a personal relationship. He said he had known Mr. Long professionally for about 30 years, working with him for some time at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, but that the two were “never really close.”
“I was surprised,” said Chief Branum, who was serving as chief of the Soddy-Daisy Police Department at the time. “I didn’t see it coming.
“But make no mistake,” the chief deputy added. “He was my friend. I’ve never been to his house, and he’s never been to mine. But I’m not going to distance myself now that all this happened. ... At the time, had I not respected him in that position, I would not have been associated with him.”
Jim Hart, who served as director of corrections for the sheriff until taking a job with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service at the end of December, described the sheriff’s approach to leadership as “not hands-on at all.”
Though the county jail was recertified under Mr. Long’s watch, Mr. Hart said he could recall only two or three times when the sheriff actually set foot in the facility.
“There was just not really a whole lot of involvement with the jail,” he said. “I interacted more with Chief Branum on a day-to-day basis.”
But he noted that Mr. Cupp may have been more involved because he did not have a chief deputy for much of his tenure as sheriff. He listed several positive changes to the corrections division under Mr. Long, including an increase in communication and upgrades to the jail facility, including security, camera and lighting improvements.
Chief Branum agreed that much of the day-to-day operation of the department had been left to the sheriff’s administration, leaving Mr. Long time to do more “suit-and-tie, sheriff-type things” such as attending community functions.
“He’s got to be out doing a lot of handshaking, kissing babies, stuff like that,” Mr. Gorman said.
The sheriff was involved “when he chose to be,” Chief Branum said, indicating that the sheriff became more of a figurehead “once things got stabilized. ... Probably in the last eight or nine months, more of the day-to-day operations, we were doing,” he said, referring to himself and top officials such as Mr. Gorman and Mr. Parson.
Chief Branum said that during Mr. Long’s tenure, the sheriff’s department instituted a chaplain program and public affairs division and reintroduced school resource officers into area middle and high schools.
Just two days before he was arrested, Mr. Long got a preliminary report and clean opinion from County Auditor Bill McGriff for fiscal 2007.
Friends and supporters say they are still in shock over the arrest of Mr. Long, who remains at the Bradley County Jail. He waived his bond hearing Friday.
“Even a week later, I’m like thousands of other people wondering how this could happen,” said Garry Mac, who has known the former sheriff for 30 years and worked on his campaign.
Mr. James is frustrated and saddened over putting so much trust in Mr. Long.
“I would have done anything for him, because he’s a good old boy,” Mr. James said. “And I mean that in a good way... but apparently it was an act. He must be a much more complex man than all of us know.”
As it stands, Mr. Long is allowed to see only his attorney in person. All other visitors may teleconference with him, according to Mr. Gorman, who had the opportunity to do so last week.
He said the former sheriff looked sad and barely lifted his head during their conversation.
“I told him I forgave him,” Mr. Gorman said. “He’s still my friend, no matter what he might have done.”
Staff Writers Dave Flessner and Brian Lazenby contributed to this story.