published Friday, February 7th, 2014

Cook: Sticking up for Jimmy Gaines

Earlier this week, I wrote about the hyper-punitive charges against Jimmy Gaines, the 25-year-old with a heart of gold who now faces felony jail time for 50 words of frustration.

Here's what you said about what Jimmy said.

"We love that boy," emailed a family friend.

"The sweetest," said the daughter of a cancer survivor Gaines works with at a local YMCA.

"I have contacted people from Montana to Mass[achusetts] to Idaho that say they are committed to pray for this unjust situation," emailed one woman.

Adventists across America shared the story online. His elementary school principal called. Family friends, classmates, strangers, all saying the same:

"People are on Jimmy's side," one woman emailed. "And so is God!"

Last month, Gaines walked into the admissions office at Chattanooga State to re-enroll in college to become what he believes is his life's calling.

"A teacher," he said.

After dropping out of Southern Adventist in 2009 when his dad got sick, Gaines had been saving paychecks ever since, waiting for the day he could pay off his $8,000 loan so Southern would release his transcript and he could enroll at Chattanooga State.

But that fateful day, everything got lost in the paperwork jungle of loan companies, withheld transcripts and slow-moving mail. So Gaines -- put yourself in his shoes -- said something he shouldn't have. He joked about a gun and a bomb, and as soon as he heard the words fly out of his mouth, he wished he could swallow them forever.

So he apologizes. Immediately.

"As soon as I said it," Gaines remembers.

Gaines had been speaking to an admissions officer, a woman he said he'd met with multiple times, a woman he recalls joking with in that humble, easy-going Gaines way.

He left. She called police. They immediately and correctly put Southern on lock down, canvassing the campus with SWAT teams while other officers flooded the local Y, putting Gaines in handcuffs, taking him to jail and introducing him to the FBI.

Gaines said the FBI realized this was a nonthreat; even Gaines' girlfriend -- as FBI agents procedurally searched her home for bombs -- said they told her this was something of a misunderstanding.

But not Hamilton County.

So why on earth is Hamilton County pressing felony charges? Why does Hamilton County's judgment -- they want to lock him up for three years or longer -- supersede that of the FBI -- which did not press charges?

It is absurdist logic, and quite frightening. With this as their pattern, officers can arrest and charge any of us for an off-hand comment made, overheard and reported, even without a snip of evidence that it's more than empty syllables.

The whole thing makes me so mad I could explode! So mad I could punch somebody!

(Wait, wait! I didn't mean that! No explosions here. Just a joke. A teeny, tiny joke.)

There's hope that common sense and mercy will win out. Gaines' first court appearance was moved from yesterday to March 6 at 8:30 in Hamilton County General Sessions Court, and his case may wind up in the hands of executive assistant district attorney Neil Pinkston, which could be a good thing.

Pinkston, who's running for DA, would have a fine chance to show Hamilton County the wisdom, mercy and clarity he'd bring to this position by seeing the charges against Gaines for what they really are.

"Outrageous," one reader said.

Rather beautifully, most of the support for Gaines is coming from Southern Adventist.

"It's pretty widespread that people are sticking up for Jimmy," said Daniel Glassford, a nursing student.

Wednesday afternoon, he and a few classmates created a petition on Jimmy's behalf. He posted it on Facebook.

"It spread like wildfire," he said.

Around 10 p.m., there were 500 signatures.

"We were getting signatures every 45 seconds," Glassford said. Thursday afternoon, it was pushing 800 signatures.

(You can view it at

Such merciful activism seems to be the ethos at Southern; it is quite moving to hear the campus that endured the most from his jokes is now the place most in his corner.

One woman from Southern who called saw the solution quite clearly.

"Grace," she said.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
potcat said...

You would be hard pressed to find a single solitary soul who would not want these charges dropped immediately.

Common sense???? How about the cop that told the unbelieveble tale about kicking the pill and then flushing it, and was demoted to jailer status. If they believe that BS, then..........

February 7, 2014 at 8:45 a.m.
hotdiggity said...

David, thanks for staying on this story. One can only hope that common sense and reason prevails. Jimmy Gaines seems to be a model citizen and does not deserve the stigma of a felony conviction for this incident.

February 8, 2014 at 9 a.m.
RShultz210 said...

Hamilton county is not known for it's logic or it's compassion, and neither is Neil Pinkston. He's a hard azz out to make a reputation for himself and he'll try his best to put Jimmy in Silverdale for as long as he can manage. They are all statist bast&*ds and not one of them is worth voting for, ESECIALLY NOT PINKSTON! If you ask me what we need is a demonstration of the amount of force the citizens of Hamilton county could muster to correct silly Azzed things like this. Say about 600 volunteers with AR-15's and someone with military leadership experience to provide a commander. Then we could simply TAKE Jimmy back from these fools and tell them they are on notice. No more arrests for harmless jokes and no more treating the population of our fair city as though they were slaves or livestock.

February 8, 2014 at 2:06 p.m.
jesse said...

Well Shultz if you weren't already i would say this tirade has gotten you on someones "WATCH LIST"!When they come to get ya i'll be lookin to see how it works out for ya when you shoot it out w/them!!LMAO!!

February 8, 2014 at 4:02 p.m.
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