published Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Release of seized car not misuse of Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond's position

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to Times Free Press editorial board members.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to Times Free Press editorial board members.
Photo by Patrick Smith.

An internal investigation found that Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond did not use his position to help a woman get her seized car back, but a memo resulting from the probe requires a state order to return seized property.

Marcia Tenenbaum, who said she attended classes at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with the sheriff, phoned him in April 2012 after her son was arrested for drug possession.

Tenenbaum's son was driving her 1990 Lincoln Towncar when he was stopped by Deputy James Makemson, who found him with 15 ounces of marijuana and about $900 in cash. The cash, drugs and car were seized by the sheriff's office.

According to the report, after Tenenbaum contacted Hammond, he directed narcotics Lt. Van Hinton to look into the matter and contact Tenenbaum.

Hinton told Tenenbaum the department would keep $920 in seized cash and return the car to her upon the payment of an impound fee. He said at the time this was standard practice, according to the report.

Emails from another case show the sheriff's office was instructed by Tennessee Department of Safety attorneys that if an agreement had been made, the sheriff's office could release the vehicle to the owner and send the paperwork to the attorneys to sign off.

In Tenenbaum's case, the car was returned before the state issued a civil settlement agreement. Defendants normally have to go to a seizure hearing to try to get their property back. The sheriff's office had been circumventing the process in some cases.

After Tenenbaum's case was brought to light, a department memo was issued stating that no seized property can be released without a civil settlement agreement.

Capt. Bill Johnson opened an internal investigation in October after the Chattanooga Times Free Press contacted the sheriff's office about the Tenenbaum case.

Makemson had complained to internal affairs officers after he went on a call and noticed the seized Towncar had been returned. Internal affairs failed to open an investigation after he complained, and Makemson was told "everything was good," in regard to the car being returned to Tenenbaum, according to newspaper archives.

An investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and review by the Hamilton County district attorney also concluded that Hammond did not break any laws.

Johnson did not respond to a text message that asked about the status of the Towncar.

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