published Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Fired Ringgold officer sues woman who accused him of sexual harassment

Ringgold Police Department Sgt. Tom Evans was fired following an internal investigation into a citizen complaint.
Ringgold Police Department Sgt. Tom Evans was fired following an internal investigation into a citizen complaint.

No, I did not hit on that 24-year-old girl, the fired, middle-aged officer claims in a lawsuit. And no, I didn't ask to see her breasts, either.

That is what former Ringgold, Ga., police Sgt. Tom Evans claims in the suit filed in late December in Catoosa County Superior Court. Last February, Evans lost his job after an internal investigation revealed that, in October 2012, he drove an FBI agent, the agent's girlfriend and the girlfriend's daughter across state lines into Chattanooga.

It was a favor, Evans told his bosses, according to an investigative file.

After the drive, Evans and the girlfriend's daughter, Kathryn Russell, sat in his patrol car, alone, outside a Chattanooga apartment. Kathryn Russell had just realized she left her house key in Ringgold, and she needed Evans to drive her back. But her mother, Angela Russell, and the FBI agent, Ken Hillman, were inside the apartment.

So Kathryn Russell, then 24 years old, waited with Evans.

"He was hitting on me the whole entire time we were sitting there," she told Ringgold police Chief Dan Bilbrey and Assistant Chief Greg Wingo on Feb. 6, during the investigation.

"If you were a little older," she recalled Evans saying, "I would be all over you."

"If I wasn't married, I would ask you out."

Then, with Kathryn Russell's mother also in the car, he asked to see her breasts: "If you take your shirt off, I'll take you back to get your car."

Kathryn Russell told investigators she removed her sweater, but not her tank top.

Her mother, Angela Russell, gave investigators a different account. She said Evans never asked Kathryn Russell to remove her shirt. Angela Russell said her daughter took it off anyway and "put quite a show on for him."

Evans also disputes Kathryn Russell's version of events. On Dec. 20, he filed a lawsuit against her claiming she committed slander and defamation of character. He wants a jury trial, then money.

"At no time did the Plaintiff [Evans] 'hit on' the Defendant," his lawyer, Lawrence Stagg, wrote in the complaint, "nor did he ask or inquire, in any way, to see the breasts of the Defendant."

Nine days after Kathryn Russell and her father, businessman Emerson Russell, talked with Bilbrey and Wingo, the department fired Evans. But the investigation's impact was even greater. It revealed that Hillman was having an affair with Angela Russell, and that Hillman let her participate in stings for the FBI's Northwest Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Allowing Angela Russell to take part in these investigations as a civilian has jeopardized a number of the "To Catch a Predator"-style cases. The FBI, meanwhile, launched an internal investigation against Hillman.

Stagg is also the defense attorney for some people who were arrested by Hillman's task force. He does not see representing Evans in this civil lawsuit as a conflict of interest. Evans did not arrest his clients, Stagg pointed out.

Last February, Kathryn Russell did not tell Ringgold police that Evans asked to see her breasts until the end of Russell's conversation with the investigators. Stagg argues that this is proof that she lied. If Evans really asked her to flash him, she would have brought this up at the beginning of the interview, he says.

According to the investigative file, the police department did not fire Evans because of his conversation with Kathryn Russell. The department fired him because he broke rules. He drove to Tennessee, leaving his post. He did not write a report about the incident. And he did not alert the Catoosa County 911 Center about what he was doing.

Still, Stagg argues that Kathryn Russell's statements were lies used in an attempt to get Evans fired.

"Quite frankly, I don't think the police department believed the allegations," Stagg said. "It was still a statement that was defamatory and made in detriment to his job."

Clifton Patty, a Ringgold attorney representing Kathryn Russell, did not return a call seeking comment Friday. But her father, Emerson Russell, says Kathryn would not fabricate a story to police.

"I stand behind my daughter's statements," he said. "She had no reason to lie, to my knowledge."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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