published Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Witness accounts conflict in Bledsoe County sheriff brawl

  • photo
    Bledsoe County Sheriff James “Jimmy” Morris was arrested early Sunday morning in Dunlap, Tenn.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Witnesses can't agree whether Bledsoe County, Tenn., Sheriff Jimmy Morris started the brawl that landed him and five other people in jail on disorderly conduct charges Sunday morning.

Morris was arrested about 3:45 a.m. CST at the Huddle House on Rankin Avenue in Dunlap, Tenn. Restaurant employees called Dunlap police after several people started fighting in the parking lot.

When officers arrived, they found one man, Shannon Dee Bach, bleeding from a cut above his left eye. Witnesses agreed Bach and Morris were fighting, but some witnesses claimed Morris started the fight, and others said Bach threw the first punch, according to the incident report.

Huddle House employee Asya Louallen said Bach hit Morris first.

But witness Sharon Davis told police she saw Morris flip a lighted cigarette at Bach while inside the Huddle House. She said another man, Jerry Lee Summers, grabbed Bach and held him while Morris punched him. At least two other witnesses also said Summers and Morris attacked Bach, according to the report.

Morris, Bach and Summers were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. If convicted, each could serve up to 30 days in jail and pay a $50 fine.

Bledsoe County attorney Howard Upchurch, who is representing Morris, said the sheriff intends to vigorously fight the misdemeanor charge.

"Sheriff Morris and I do not believe the sheriff committed any act that violates the criminal code or engages in criminal conduct," he said. "He was confronted by a third party who initially threatened and then threw a punch at Sheriff Morris."

Three other people also were arrested during the incident. Denise Summers and Jacqueline Lee were arrested after shouting and cursing at each other in the parking lot, according to the report. A third woman, Laurie Rutledge, was arrested after she and Lee physically fought inside the restaurant.

Each woman was charged with disorderly conduct, the police report states.

Officer Phillips Randall said in the report that Bach and Morris have had several altercations before this incident. Upchurch said he wasn't sure what incidents the report was referring to.

"I'm not aware of any substantial contact between those two in the past which would have led to this individual confronting the sheriff," he said.

Dunlap police did not return requests for comment on the case.

Morris posted a $1,000 bail and was released Sunday morning.

Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier said the Bledsoe County Sheriff's Office will continue to operate as normal while Morris waits for his Dec. 21 appearance in General Sessions Court.

"We've got some very professional deputies," he said. "They'll be on the job and doing what they should be doing. I have confidence in them."

Morris isn't the only elected official in Bledsoe County in trouble with the law. Pikeville Mayor Greg Johnson resigned in September after he was accused of spending as much as $250,000 in city funds for his personal gain.

Collier said he thinks Bledsoe residents still should have confidence in their elected officials.

"There are a lot of exceptional, good elected officials in Bledsoe County," he said. "I'm sure the citizens of the county can count on those people. Sometimes, we just make poor judgments. Everyone is human."

Upchurch said he thinks Morris will run again for sheriff in 2014.

"I expect the sheriff will run for re-election," he said, "and I do not expect these charges to substantially affect his re-election efforts in 2014."

Morris did not return requests for comment.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at sbradbury@times freepress.com or 423-757-6476.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury joined the Times Free Press as a business reporter in January 2013, after starting with the paper as a general assignment intern in July 2012. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint Hill Times. Outside the newsroom, Shelly enjoys ...

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