Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond doles out arrest, firearms powers

photo Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond can issue Special Deputy Commission cards to members of law enforcement in the county's municipalities, and give them to others at his discretion. Sensitive information in this photograph has been purposely obscured.

Civilian CommissionHamilton County Civilian Law Enforcement Commission:Jeff N. Chambers; Special Request of Sheriff; Chattanooga LandscapesLonnie Eugene McGee; Special Request of Sheriff; Capital Toyota •Jeffrey Scott McKamey; Special Request of Sheriff; Capital Toyota •Steven Claude Leach; Special Request of Sheriff; City of Chattanooga Public Works DepartmentDonald Lemyrle Norris; Special Request of Sheriff; City of Chattanooga Public Works DepartmentRichard Garfield Pearce; Special Request of Sheriff; Spine Surgery AssociatesJames W. Adams; Special Request of Sheriff; Retired businessman*Richard Allen Hlubek; Special Request of Sheriff; Interview Graphics Co.Ben F. Miller III; Special Request of Sheriff; EAP Care Inc.Charles William Hall Jr.; Hamilton County Medical Examiner's OfficeFrank Knox King Jr.; Hamilton County Medical Examiner's OfficeMax Rogers Wilkey III; Hamilton County Medical Examiner's OfficeJimmie David Cannon; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtRobert Joseph Mattingly; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtDavid Allan Navas; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtReginald Quinn Page; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtRichard Donavon Posey; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtGary Edward Randall; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtGary Lee Schroyer; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtJimmy Lee Smith; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtChrisdenator J. Weatherly; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtMarlon Marquis Williams; Hamilton County Juvenile CourtRheubin McGhee Taylor; Hamilton County Government attorneyScott M. Schoolfield; Hamilton County Government retired human services administratorDon L. Allen Sr.; Hamilton County Emergency ServicesJohn E. Combes; Hamilton County Emergency ServicesRay Eddington; Hamilton County Emergency ServicesEarl Anthony Reavley; Hamilton County Emergency ServicesWilliam H. Tittle III; Hamilton County Emergency ServicesKenneth Lee Wilkerson; Hamilton County Emergency ServicesHarold Rohen; Hamilton County Emergency ServicesWilliam Henry Cox; Hamilton County District AttorneyWarren Mackey; Hamilton County CommissionRandall Lee Parker; Chattanooga Fire DepartmentRobert Harmon Colby; Air Pollution Control BureauJohn Charles Schultz; Air Pollution Control BureauJames J. Weyler; Air Pollution Control Bureau• Contributor to sheriff's campaignSource: Hamilton County Sheriff's OfficePOSSE AND DEPUTIESSpecial deputies are among several different kinds of supplemental manpower at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.Posse -- Members can potentially be deputized, but unless they are called up for a specific purpose by the sheriff, they have no arrest powers and are not authorized to carry handguns. There are 71 members in Sheriff Jim Hammond's group.Special deputies -- Members are authorized to carry guns and must qualify once a year. They also have full arrest powers. There are 128 Hamilton County special deputies, ranging from city police officers to civilians awarded the power at the sheriff's discretion.Reserve deputies -- Reserve deputies must undergo training and have to work at least 20 hours a month at the sheriff's office. The reserves volunteer their time and sometimes do ride-alongs with patrol deputies. They can also help provide security or direct traffic for special functions. There are 53 members in this group in Hamilton County.Note: All members have ID cards and have to undergo background checks.Source: Hamilton County Sheriff's Office

An ex-police officer fired for acting inappropriately with a couple of teenage boys is among 37 civilian special deputies who are given full arrest powers and authority to carry a firearm by Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond.

None of the civilian special deputies has to undergo law enforcement training, but they have the same authority as an officer in full uniform, wearing a badge and gun. They are required to qualify with a firearm once a year, even though they are not issued guns by the department.

The remainder -- and vast majority -- of the 128 people who hold special deputy commissions are officers in municipal police departments who need countywide arrest powers to pursue suspects beyond their jurisdictions.

But it's the civilian cardholders who open up the sheriff's department for potential abuse with their lack of training and screening, according to a police ethics expert.

Maki Haberfeld is chairwoman of the department of law, police science and criminal justice academy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

"It appears as if law enforcement powers are given out to people who are not properly screened and selected, there is no accountability, and hence potential for a tremendous abuse that will impact the image the public has of their law enforcement agencies," Haberfeld said.

Under state law, Hammond -- like all sheriffs across Tennessee -- has the authority to make as many deputies as he wants.

"The sheriff may appoint as many special deputies as the sheriff may think proper, on urgent occasions, or when required for particular purposes," states the law, which dates back to 1870.

Most of the civilian special deputies hold public office, but Hammond, by special request, awarded nine cards to people at his own discretion. Three are private businessmen who contributed money to his campaign.

Former Chattanooga Police Department officer Jeff N. Chambers is also among the nine.

Chambers, who was fired in 2000, was issued a card in 2010 and still is on the list of commission cardholders.

In 2000, Chambers cited two teen boys for underage drinking at a party. He offered to rip up the citations if the boys performed acts for him. One was forced to walk along the roadway naked, then get into his patrol car, according to a Chattanooga police internal affairs report.

Hammond defended the cards he has issued.

"There are different reasons for different people. Some are law enforcement, some are not; some are temporary, some are for only a year," said Hammond in an email when asked why he chose to issue the cards to civilians. "Once again, it is up to the discretion of the sheriff."

Based on a review of court records by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, none of the civilian cardholders arrested anyone in the last year and a half.

Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern is a former special deputy, but he chose not to receive a commission card this year. When he was a special deputy, he never handcuffed or charged anyone, he said.

"I just don't need it," Skillern said. "I don't know why I need it."

Haberfeld said the commission cards for special deputies don't contribute to policing efforts in communities. In fact, the cards hurt the image of police officers, she said.

"I think that the history of these honorary badges is very political and has nothing to do with effective law enforcement but rather has its roots in the corrupted era of American policing, a.k.a. the 'political era' that supposedly ended almost 80 years ago," she said. "But somehow these badges remain as an eyesore that, at least in my mind, should be eliminated as soon as possible."


While Hammond has civilian special deputy candidates fill out applications and runs a criminal background check on them, sometimes even that's not enough.

For example, Hammond said he did a background check on Chambers.

"The background [National Crime Information Center] check did not show any criminal charges or arrests," the sheriff said. "The [sheriff's office] did not have information or knowledge of any events or issues that occurred in 2000."

Hammond didn't check Chambers' personnel file with the city department, according to Chattanooga police.

When Chambers was asked about the card at his home in Harrison a few weeks ago, he said, "I don't have a card. I haven't had one in years," before closing the door.

However, his name still appears on the sheriff's list.

The teen forced to walk along the roadway naked died in 2009. The other teen involved in the incident still lives in the area, but he doesn't believe Chambers should ever get his arrest powers back.

"I honestly think that everyone deserves a second chance, but at what cost? When it involves officers of the law and their abuse of power, I believe that no one should be allowed to have those powers again," he said. "There are many officers that treat decent people like murderers just because they have a badge. If it were up to me, they would have much stricter laws against officers and their abuse of authority."

Abuse of power

Chambers isn't the only special deputy whose commission is questionable.

A Chattanooga businessman sentenced this year on convictions for statutory rape in Tennessee and facing sex-related charges in Georgia is a former special deputy and Hammond campaign contributor. In at least one case, a 14-year-old girl believed he was a law enforcement officer.

Greg Austin, president of CTC Technology, was sentenced to two years in the Tennessee case, according to court records.

He was initially given the title of special deputy by former Sheriff Billy Long in 2006. Long now is in prison after pleading guilty in May 2008 to 19 counts of extortion, six counts of money laundering, one count of providing a firearm to a felon and one count of cocaine possession.

Hammond renewed the commission after his election. Austin's card was revoked in 2009, a year before he was charged with statutory rape, Hammond said.

The charges against Austin were brought after one of the girls' mothers reported to the district attorney's office in 2010 she had intercepted questionable text messages that made her think her daughter was having sex with a law enforcement officer. Prosecutors told her to make a statement to detectives at the sheriff's office.

It turns out Austin wasn't a law enforcement officer, even though the girls seemed to think he was.

Even after Austin's case, Hammond continued to issue the cards to civilians.

Loyalty rewarded

Despite some cardholders' issues, Hammond said the commissions allow residents to be "very valuable resources," and therefore help him create a safer environment.

"I make decisions and answer on the information that is made available to me at any given time," Hammond said. "Once again, anyone, especially elected officials, will always try to surround themselves with those who are qualified to do the work they expect them to do and who will be loyal to them."

Haberfeld said the cards given to civilians cheapen the badge for hardworking law enforcement officers.

"[The] police profession is filled with temptations for the abuse of the rights of the office. There is absolutely no need to add additional layers of potential and very real problems," she said in an email.

The Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, the state agency based in Nashville tasked with overseeing law enforcement certifications, has no oversight over law enforcement commission cards issued by sheriff's offices across the state.

"There is nothing in place to track commissions. This is something that sheriffs ... use at their discretion," said Christopher Garrett, spokesman for the commission. "It is the responsibility of the individual agency to track what they issue. No one else would regulate honorary credentials."

Haberfeld questions the lack of oversight and says there are other ways to recognize community members who support law enforcement.

"If you want to honor somebody for their contribution to local law enforcement, a nice plaque or a certificate of appreciation will do the job in an honorable way," she said.