published Friday, January 31st, 2014

Hamilton County deputy sheriff admitted to taking oxycodone from evidence room, demoted to jailer

A Hamilton County deputy sheriff was demoted to jailer after admitting that he took an oxycodone pill from the evidence room where he was assigned to work.

Deputy Joseph Kennedy Minnis, who has worked for the department since 2009, is the grandson of former Chattanooga fire and police commissioner, Tom Kennedy.

Minnis stepped forward Nov. 25 after the evidence was packaged and sent to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lab. He spoke to his grandfather about the incident before coming forward, according to an internal affairs report.

Sheriff Jim Hammond ruled that Minnis violated the policy against use of illegal drugs and exhibited unbecoming conduct. Aside from the demotion, Minnis also was suspended for 78 hours, according to a county letter dated Jan. 9.

Minnis told investigators he illegally obtained 30 milligrams of oxycodone from someone he knew from high school and brought one of the pills to work. He said he lost the pill and saw another that looked like it on the floor after deputies came into the evidence room to drop off pills from an arrest, according to the affairs report.

"I was looking at his evidence. ... I looked down on the floor and saw a pill that was the same color and around the same size as the pill I had brought with me and I didn't know if it was mine or his and I took my foot and moved it and pushed it underneath the desk," Minnis told Capt. Bill Johnson.

One pill was missing from the evidence, records show. Minnis told Johnson he later picked up the pill and flushed it.

Minnis said he has received pills from other people about three to four times.

"I take it because I'm in pain. I have a pinched sciatic nerve. I've had a lot of surgeries and I have a high tolerance to pain medication ... I don't feel the euphoric effects from pain medication," he told Johnson.

Minnis faces no criminal charges, Hammond said.

During his interview to work at the sheriff's office, Minnis said he experimented with marijuana, mushrooms, cocaine and LSD as a teenager. He said he stopped using drugs in December 2007.

Records show that there were reservations about hiring Minnis.

"Caution should be used when considering this applicant. The applicant has a history of admitted drug use and has poor work ethic, only working short periods of time, not giving advance notice when leaving an employer and being dismissed from employers for tardiness and absenteeism," states the sheriff's office pre-employment summary.

He graduated 45th out of 52 in his academy class, records show.

Sources told the Times Free Press that Minnis' uncle Tommy Kennedy, a former deputy police chief in Chattanooga, made calls to the sheriff's office in support of his nephew's hiring. Kennedy did not respond to telephone calls and texts seeking comment.

In his job application, Minnis wrote that he grew up in a law enforcement family.

"My grandfather retired from law enforcement and my uncle is currently in law enforcement. I grew up thinking highly of the profession and respecting those family members and wanted to make that my career choice," Minnis wrote.

Hammond downplayed concerns about Minnis working at the sheriff's office after the incident and previous drug use.

"I don't know that I would call it drug issues," he said. "He's had medical issues. You would have to read the reports on that."

Johnson said he's concerned about the impact on department procedures as well as any case Minnis works, according to the internal affairs report.

"I'm trying right now to protect the case because it does bring ... the integrity of all the property evidence in question. Definitely brings your integrity into question," Johnson told Minnis. "And I hope you're telling me the truth."

Efforts to reach Minnis were unsuccessful. He plans to appeal the discipline issued in his case.

A similar case involving a sergeant is being handled differently at Chattanooga Police Department.

Sgt. Kevin Kincer, who worked in property and evidence at the police department, remains on administrative leave after another employee told supervisors that Kincer took drugs out of evidence.

A criminal case against Kincer is expected to go to a Hamilton County grand jury.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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