Hammond steps in it again

Hammond steps in it again

May 12th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to Times Free Press editorial board members.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

It seems that Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond is always stepping in messes. Of course, that's because he creates a heck a lot of them.

Like a child who acts without stopping to consider the consequences, Hammond made two dimwitted decisions in recent days to add to the pile of poor choices he's made during his tenure as the top lawman in the county.

Under Hammond, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department's Explorer Post program, an opportunity for youths aged 14 to 21 to "explore law enforcement careers through a supervised community policing program," has apparently become a haven for underage drinking and lurid behavior.

Times Free Press reporter Beth Burger unearthed a startling internal affairs report indicating that a deputy overseeing the Explorer Post program "gave alcohol to several teens on numerous occasions" and developed an inappropriate personal relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

Teens involved in the Explorer Post program reported seeing the deputy kissing the girl, as well as carrying the teen into a bedroom, closing the door and spending the night with her during a retreat in Gatlinburg. Neither the girl nor the deputy admitted to sexual intercourse before she turned 18, and her parents declined to press charges.

If you were the sheriff, how would you deal with a deputy who broke the law by providing alcohol to high school kids who were involved in a mentoring program with the Sheriff's Department? What if that deputy exploited his authority to initiate an inappropriate relationship with an underage girl who was also involved the taxpayer-funded program to encourage young people to go into law enforcement?

If you're like most reasonable people, if you were sheriff, you would probably demand the deputy's badge and gun -- and pray for the grace to refrain from kicking his backside for acting recklessly with kids and giving the Sheriff's Department a bad name.

But Hammond isn't like most reasonable people.

Hammond simply gave the deputy a firm slap on the wrist -- suspending him for a month, placing him on probation for a year, taking away his patrol car and relegating him to a jail guard duties -- but kept him on the payroll.

•••

The mishandling of the despicable deputy wasn't Hammond's only misstep in recent days.

On May 1, the day after the story of the deputy's misdeeds with Explorer Post program participants first broke, Hammond named former East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble to serve as interim corrections chief at the Hamilton County Jail.

Gobble's laundry list of inappropriate behavior as a government leader has been well-documented in this newspaper. Lowlights include: hiring a teenage family friend to perform a job that required a degree and years of experience, questionable use of city funds and credit cards, inappropriately attacking critics on the city's Facebook page and allegedly tainting a court case involving his daughter.

East Ridge residents grew tired of Gobble's abuse of power and frustrating decisions, ultimately leading to his resignation under pressure in February.

While these concerns would cause a wiser person to steer clear of Gobble, Hammond seems happy to have Gobble overseeing the Hamilton County jail -- even though the jail is mired in financial problems and Gobble has a history of spending tax dollars irresponsibly, both as East Ridge city manager and as Bradley County sheriff.

•••

Sure, Hammond's decisions to keep the discredited deputy and employ a man that a city within Hamilton County just rode out of town on a rail make no sense. But bad decisions are nothing new for the sheriff.

Included in Hammond's file of poor choices are:

• Attempting to convince a judge to let a personal friend out of jail improperly.

• Hiring his own son, at an inflated salary, as the department's full-time webmaster.

• Declaring that he would send gang members "to the funeral home."

• Busting his department's payroll budget by $220,850 last year.

• Releasing a car back to a former college classmate after it was seized during a drug arrest.

• Engaging in cronyism by handing out jobs to a number of neighbors, friends and campaign donors.

• Working, by his own admission, to slow down and sidestep requests for public records.

• Planning to use money from his foundation to buy license plate readers that threaten privacy.

And that's just scratching the surface.

It's amazing that a grown man with decades of experience in law enforcement consistently fails to demonstrate reasonable self-control or decision-making abilities. At this point, every Hamilton County resident has to wonder what Sheriff Hammond is going to do next to embarrass the county or discredit his department.

When will Hamilton County residents add up Hammond's massive number of dumb decisions and finally decide that enough is enough?