published Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Jury won't indict JROTC instructor on charge of sexual battery

After a Hamilton County grand jury declined to indict the head of Hamilton County Schools' JROTC program on a charge of aggravated sexual battery, the man's attorney called the police investigation "misguided."

"It is the failure to properly investigate this situation before filing charges that is the real crime here," wrote Lee Davis, criminal defense attorney for Thomas McConnell.

Davis emailed a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in which McConnell, 66, thanked prosecutors for allowing him to testify to the grand jury. That's rare in court proceedings, Davis said.

"I hope no other person has to endure the glare of false accusation as my family has these past few weeks," McConnell wrote.

Davis said he's practiced for 25 years as both prosecutor and defense attorney but this was only the second time a client testified to the grand jury.

Davis said he would work to expunge the arrest from McConnell's record.

Prosecutor Charlie Minor declined to comment late Wednesday.

Chattanooga police arrested McConnell on March 4 after Tammye Cagle used her iPhone to record what she considered his "inappropriate touching" of his 5-year-old granddaughter while she sat on his lap at a local restaurant.

Minor played the video during McConnell's March 21 preliminary hearing in General Sessions Court. The video showed McConnell rubbing the girl's leg while his wife, daughter and a priest sat nearby.

At two points during the six-minute recording, the girl pushes McConnell's hand away. At one point, his hand rests across her upper thigh. At the end of the recording, he reaches his hand inside the girl's shirt, rubbing her back.

McConnell is a retired U.S. Army colonel and has worked with Hamilton County Schools' JROTC program for 18 years. He has been suspended without pay since March.

Schools Superintendent Rick Smith learned of the dropped charge when contacted by the Times Free Press on Wednesday.

Smith said he was glad to hear the news but that McConnell won't be reinstated before Smith consults with the school system's attorney.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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