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Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond remained silent Thursday about an internal affairs report showing a deputy gave alcohol to several teens on numerous occasions and developed a personal relationship with a female member of the Explorer Post program.
Investigators at the sheriff's office could not prove Deputy Justin Tabor had sex with a girl in the Explorer Post program before she turned 18, only that he provided alcohol to several juveniles, the report released Thursday states.
The Explorer Post program is for youths aged 14 to 21. It allows participants to explore law enforcement careers through a supervised community policing program, according to the sheriff's office website. The program had 17 members as of February, according to an annual report.
Tabor, who has worked for the sheriff's office since 2009, met Explorers through the ride-along program, which allows civilians to follow an officer working a patrol shift.
As a result of this case, Hammond chose to transfer Tabor to the jail, suspend him without pay for 132 hours and place him on one year of probation for conduct unbecoming.
Tabor was not charged for providing alcohol to minors.
Asked Thursday to explain his decision, Hammond responded, "It's all in the IA."
County Commissioner Larry Henry, when asked about how Hammond handled Tabor, responded, "He made that decision. He'll have to defend it."
Detective Eddie Sledge, adviser to the Explorer program, said Thursday he was not allowed to answer questions.
Sgt. Chris Harvey, an associate adviser for the Explorer program, conducted the internal affairs investigation.
"The investigation has also revealed that, on numerous occasions, Deputy Sheriff Tabor has slept in the same bed as Juvenile #4," Harvey stated in the report. "However, there has not been statements or evidence discovered in this investigation that clearly indicates that there is a sexual relationship between Deputy Sheriff Tabor and Juvenile #4."
Another section states:
"Deputy Sheriff Tabor admits that he has developed a relationship with Juvenile #4. He stated that the relationship developed shortly after Juvenile #4 began ride-along program. However, Deputy Sheriff Tabor advised that there had not been any sexual contact between him and Juvenile #4 prior to her turning 18 years of age."
A juvenile told investigators it was obvious the pair was dating because he observed them kissing and hugging during a gathering.
Another youth saw Tabor carry the teen girl into his bedroom and close the door, the report states.
In one case, Tabor and the girl slept in the same bed at a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The girl's mother was staying in the same cabin, according to the report.
All the incidents took place outside sanctioned Explorer Post programs.
Tabor provided alcohol to underage youths at his home, on private property in Lookout Valley, on a trip to Gatlinburg and at the girl's home, the report states.
Parents of the youths involved declined to press charges.
Hammond did not respond to questions whether there are rules regarding fraternization between Explorers and sworn deputies.
At the Chattanooga Police Department, officers aren't even allowed to socialize with cadets enrolled in the police academy, much less youths in the Explorer program.
Chattanooga police Sgt. Wayne Jefferson, who oversees the city Explorer program, said, "With a juvenile, the golden rule is you just don't touch. You just don't invite kids to your home. Period."
It's not the first time an area law enforcement officer has taken advantage of an Explorer participant.
East Ridge Police Department no longer has a program after a 31-year-old officer had sex with a 15-year-old Explorer in 2002. He was fired. This was a year after another East Ridge officer resigned after trying to start a relationship with an adult Explorer, according to newspaper archives.
Jefferson said the Chattanooga Police Department has been fortunate that its program hasn't dealt with such scandal. These incidents cast a shadow on a youth program that is supposed to be a positive experience, he said.
"I remember I had a girl who was 16 [participate in the program.] She looked like a grown woman," Jefferson said. "I was very protective of her because of that."
Contact staff writer Beth Burger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.