Hamilton County's top cop recently made multiple attempts to pull strings for a convicted felon and former deputy who was sent to prison in 1998 for managing a jailhouse drug ring.
Sheriff Jim Hammond immediately began making calls on behalf of Lonnie R. Hood just after his arrest on Dec. 31, 2011, for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after a traffic incident on Hamilton Place Boulevard.
Hood worked as a deputy under Hammond until a 1997 federal investigation led him to plead guilty for conspiring to deal drugs in the jail.
First, Hammond called the county jail, which he oversees, to leave a message asking Hood to call him, police reports show. Then Hammond said he called Magistrate Sharetta Smith, who was in charge of setting Hood's bond, asking that she allow him to go on his own recognizance.
Despite Hammond's request, Smith set bonds of $1,500 and $500 for the two counts.
In March, once General Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck ordered Hood to seven days of community service, Hammond's office made a special request to allow him to serve those days in the sheriff's department. Once Hood served his seven days, the charges were dismissed.
On Tuesday, Hammond said he suspected that deputies in his department thought his involvement in Hood's case was inappropriate and reported it, but he said he respects someone like Hood more than those who anonymously complain about his actions.
"I'm sure there's some of the deputies that are upset. Most people can't forgive and forget," Hammond said Tuesday. "If people feel they have an issue, they should be man enough to tell me to my face."
Hood's jailhouse activities led a federal judge to sentence him in 1998 to 51/2 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute anabolic steroids, conspiring to extort money from inmates for contraband tobacco, and tax fraud and money laundering.
Hood paid his debt to society, said Hammond, who was serving as Sheriff H.Q. Evatt's chief deputy when he hired Hood.
Gary Henry, Hood's attorney, declined to comment.
"Other than the fact that the sheriff's involvement was voluntary, it would be inappropriate for me to comment because of attorney-client privilege," said Henry, son of Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry.
Gary Henry only occasionally handles criminal matters, but said Hood was already a business client.
On Tuesday, Hammond said he and Hood are friends, though they don't socialize heavily or share business interests. Hood is now a contractor.
"I don't owe him anything. He doesn't owe me anything," Hammond said.
Hammond said Hood's wife called him the night of her husband's arrest.
"I was going to tell his wife what she needed to do," the sheriff said.
Before Hood appeared before a magistrate, who sets bonds, Hammond said he called Smith to ask her to release him on his own recognizance, without bond.
"Sheriff's have the right to do that, and I do that quite often for other people," Hammond said. "I never try to tell a magistrate how to do his job. I never insist that they do something or go against what their decision is."
On March 13, Shattuck ordered Hood to report to the Hamilton County Courts Community Service program office. Chief Deputy Allen Branum then contacted the program office and advised that Hood was licensed for work that needed to be done in the sheriff's annex.
Hammond said the project, which would have cost the county $3,000, required moving a wall to prepare for a new training room.
Hammond said Tuesday he couldn't name others who had spent their community service days working in the sheriff's annex, though he thinks there are rare cases of it happening during his tenure there. But he said he would be open to others volunteering to do so.
Barbara Payne, Hamilton County Corrections director, said the program doesn't "grant defendants' request to perform their community service at the place of their choosing; however, we try to assist other government agencies whenever possible."
Staff writer Pam Sohn contributed to this report.
• Deputy Lonnie R. Hood, in charge of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office gymnasium, is at the center of an illegal anabolic steroid distribution business.
• Former Sheriff H.Q. Evatt announces his retirement. Then-Hamilton County Deputy Chief Jim Hammond runs as a Democrat against John Cupp, a Republican.
• Cupp wins election and requests a federal investigation of the department.
• Cupp closes the sheriff’s office gymnasium; Hood is transferred to the jail.
• October — Hammond is one of three present or former sheriff’s department officials subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury.
• Dec. 9, 1997 — Hood is indicted and a warrant is issued for his arrest. The 52-page, 28-count federal indictment charges Hood, his brother, his cousin, his nephew, a former deputy, a former inmate and a trucker. Charges include distribution of steroids, extortion in smuggling tobacco, extortion in jury tampering, extortion in escape efforts, transfer of counterfeit money, money laundering, obstruction of justice, intimidation of witnesses, perjury and tax offenses.
• January 1998 — Hood pleads guilty to some of the charges and is eventually sentenced to 51/2 years in federal prison.
• May 13, 1998 — Hood responds to then former Chief Deputy Hammond’s comment that he was “disappointed” in the men hired on his watch who pleaded guilty. “A man who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. ... I’m sure you can figure out what I mean,” Hood says.
Source: News stories from the Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga Free Press
Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...