Sohn: TBI owes Bradley County answers in sheriff probe

Sohn: TBI owes Bradley County answers in sheriff probe

December 6th, 2017 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

After 16 months and continuing silence in the TBI probe of Sheriff Eric Watson, some Bradley County officials are right to question whether the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is stalling — leaving the county in a bad spot with a chief law enforcement officer already awaiting trial on 12 felony charges related to forging auto titles.

Watson clearly isn't of a mind to step down on his own, despite controversy after controversy — like the one created in early 2016 when Watson sold off the county's $130,000 surveillance van for $20,000 to a Nashville bail bondsman.

The former four-term Republican Tennessee state legislator and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee also has faced a formal complaint of jail bullying. The TBI probe is said to be looking at persistent allegations of credit card misuse, more than $100,000 missing from the jail's food budget, and other problems in the sheriff's office.

Did we mention that Watson's wife is a bail bondsman who reportedly receives a disproportionate number of Bradley County jail bonds and gets help from her husband to reel in bond jumpers?

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson in his booking photograph when he was charged months ago with forging automobile titles.

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson in his booking...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Related Article

Some allege Eric Watson TBI investigation being stalled on purpose

Read more

Imagine the consternation of county commissioners and other officials who have to worry about county liability for a rogue sheriff they can't fire when he chases down bond jumpers for his wife across state lines in his unmarked sheriff's vehicle with wife and another bonding agent in tow.

Two of those worried Bradley County commissioners who pushed most strongly for the investigation, along with people inside the department, say they're frustrated and cynical, fearing the TBI probe is being intentionally delayed because Watson is close to TBI Director Mark Gwyn.

"I think there needs to be some type of explanation as to what's going on here. It just seems this is being slow-walked for some reason," County Commissioner Dan Rawls told Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Judy Walton. Rawls began calling for an investigation into the sheriff's office in spring 2016.

Commissioner Thomas Crye said he is "disillusioned."

"We have now entered the next election process and it has left the citizens of Bradley County in limbo as to what the facts really are," Crye said.

Watson has denied any wrongdoing and has said the various allegations amount to a "witch hunt" brought by his political enemies.

TBI says its investigators are not stalling, and spokeswoman Susan Niland disputed any suggestion the case is being dragged out or influenced by friendship between Watson and Gwyn.

Yet several people inside and outside the sheriff's office who came forward with evidence say they've never been asked to give sworn statements. They say the TBI agent who took over the case when the first agent retired six months ago has never contacted them.

In August, commissioners became so frustrated they voted to seek a forensic audit of the sheriff's office to be conducted by the Tennessee Comptroller's Office, even if it costs more than the normal yearly audits. A spokesman for the comptroller's office said Thursday that forensic audit is expected to be released before the end of the month.

Bradley County commissioners — and more importantly, Bradley County residents — deserve answers, not excuses, from the TBI. And they deserved those answers long before now.

Related Article

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation clears Bradley County clerk on allegations of missing money

Read more

Related Article

Monday hearing for Bradley Sheriff Watson delayed

Read more
Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com