published Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Hammond, Harvey trade swipes at sheriff forum

The Hamilton County Jail
The Hamilton County Jail
Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It's not every day you get to stand up and publicly criticize your boss, but that's what Sgt. Chris Harvey of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office did Thursday.

Harvey is seeking to unseat his boss, Sheriff Jim Hammond, in the May 6 Republican primary for the sheriff's race.

During a forum held by the Nightside Pachyderm Club, the two lawmen took turns on a soap box, trying to win the hearts and minds of a dining room full of local GOP members.

Harvey, a 41-year-old patrol supervisor and 18-year veteran at the sheriff's office, didn't hold back. And Hammond, who is aiming for his second full term as sheriff, rolled with the punches.

The challenger criticized Hammond after a question from an audience member about discipline for an officer who took an oxycodone pill from the county's evidence locker.

Last month, Hammond suspended and demoted Deputy Joseph Kennedy Minnis, the grandson of former Chattanooga Fire and Police Commissioner Tom Kennedy.

In November, Minnis admitted to taking a pill from the evidence room, thinking it came from 30 milligrams of oxycodone he had bought and brought to work. He said he destroyed the pill. According to an internal investigation, Minnis had admitted to using cocaine, LSD, marijuana and other drugs two years before he was hired as an officer in 2009.

Hammond suspended Minnis for 72 hours and demoted him from patrol to detention.

On Thursday, Hammond told the audience he fully reviewed the case and, while there was a breach of policy, he didn't think there was criminal intent behind it.

"He has lost his right to be a patrol officer," Hammond said.

Acknowledging that he was not privy to the full investigation, Harvey had a different view.

"We aren't talking about working at Walmart or down here at the Kangaroo. We are talking about a person wearing a badge and a gun with arrest powers," Harvey said. "If I can't trust you, I don't need you."

During his opening statement, Harvey went after the sheriff over his dicey budget and spending history and what he said was a lack of transparency.

Hammond finished the last fiscal year $235,000 over his $28 million budget. Harvey said he'd put in place cost-saving measures and avoid giving out unbudgeted raises to his command staff so he didn't have to ask commissioners for more money.

Citing news stories where Hammond said he purposely delayed the release of information requested by media, Harvey said he would bring transparency to the department.

"The Freedom of Information Act is the law," Harvey said. "Short of an open investigation, criminal or administrative, it will not be delayed."

Hammond took the sharp critique in stride.

"I heard a lot of criticism but not much about what [Harvey] would do if elected. Some of the things were half-truths and some were just foreign to me," Hammond said to the group.

Hammond deflected Harvey's criticism that he had almost no on-the-street-law enforcement experience.

"I am a politician. My job is not to be out on the street on patrol. My job is to be an administrator," Hammond said.

If re-elected, Hammond said he would continue building on gains he's made in creating neighborhood watch programs and adding to the county's pool of school resource officers.

When he started as sheriff, there were 30 neighborhood watch programs. Now there are more than 200. And Hammond just secured a $1 million grant -- which required a $1.3 million match from the county -- to add eight SROs to the force.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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