CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Chief Deputy Wayne Bird of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office "has been stricken suddenly with a critical illness" and will immediately take leave of his position, Sheriff Jim Ruth announced Friday.
"Chief Bird has been invaluable to me personally and to our agency's organizing a well-trained, well-led, well-developed sheriff's office to fight and prevent crime," said Ruth.
The exact nature of Bird's illness could not be confirmed.
Bird, a Florida law enforcement veteran, has served as chief deputy since 2010. Last year, he took the helm of the department for several weeks in May and June while Ruth recovered from a brain-stem stroke he suffered May 30 in Nashville.
Ruth described Bird as "a deeply spiritual man who, throughout his long distinguished career as a professional lawman, has his testimony as a faithful husband, father and grandfather."
Bird was the source of contention in a recent heated debate between Ruth and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who is seeking to unseat Ruth as the county's top lawman.
Bird's position as Ruth's right-hand man was political favoritism, Watson said Thursday during a debate hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland.
"It's not a secret that [Ruth's] chief deputy is his campaign manager's brother: political payback bought by a politician," said Watson.
The Bradley County Sheriff's Office needs to have a chief deputy who is a local law enforcement officer who knows and understands the county, Watson said.
Ruth dismissed Watson's assertions and said Bird does the job he was hired to do.
"In this campaign, my opponent's attacks on my administration [have] been very typical of attacks on an incumbent sheriff," said Ruth during opening remarks at the debate. "When you have nothing to attack them on, you attack their chief deputy, you attack their supposedly bad morale, you attack things like that."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.