Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond has 71 in his posse

photo Sheriff Jim Hammond.

Sheriff's posse rosterJeanie HammondScott MichielsDavid E. Broome •David E. BoulerRichard CookRussell Friberg •Vance H. Fry •Charles HuntMichael J. Irwin Sr.Amory G. PlanchardPaul L. JenningsMark CaldwelHarry Fields III •Benjamin OdomEmerson Russell •Gene Longley •Robert PittmanMark West •Danny LovettWilliam F. KnowlesJoe H. KnowlesAlan C. KnowlesHarold NevilleJames Sheets •John WatersJames F. Sattler •Jack W. McGillJames W. WoodsMarshall Center •Ronald P. Barnes •William R. ReesorWillie H. Lassetter •Paul W. LeeBrett M. Hale •J. Lewis Card Jr.Thomas R. Moore Jr.Frank J. Kinser Sr. •Frank J. Kinser Jr. •Lyle FinleyMack B. McCarley •Ronald T. RobinsonMichael Evatt •Larry Dale WallaceRichard OwensCarey Vaughn Brown •Wesley Kliner Jr.Benjamin Probasco •Joseph "Corky" Coker •John F. Germ •Victor Peter Serodino III •Gordon StreetJay Jolley •Raymond A. BellTerrell Conley •Warren E. Dodd Jr.Donald Wayne SmithThomas P. Miller •Gary S. YerbeyBobby G. Wood •Harold Coker •Steven LittellMichael TrussellDavid HolmesLavorn MooreWilliam Timothy Ballard •John F. Hoodenpyle*George F. Wright •Jeff N. ChambersJason A. BranumTimothy E. BankstonChester Bankston• denotes donors to Sheriff Jim Hammond's campaignSource: Hamilton County Sheriff's OfficeState laws on possesTenn. Code Ann. 8-8-213 (2012)8-8-213. Conservator of peace -- Summoning posse.(a) The sheriff and the sheriffs deputies are conservators of the peace, and it is the sheriff's duty to suppress all affrays, riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, insurrections, or other breaches of the peace, detect and prevent crime, arrest any person lawfully, execute process of law, and patrol the roads of the county.(b) The sheriff shall furnish the necessary deputies to carry out the duties set forth in subsection(a) and, if necessary, may summon to the sheriff's aid as many of the inhabitants of the county as the sheriff thinks proper.

If Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond ever needs to round up a posse to deal with desperadoes, he can call on his wife, a handful of ex-police officers and a smattering of local doctors, attorneys and business owners -- including a couple of millionaires.

The word "posse" may conjure up visions of a Stetson-hatted lawman standing on a dusty Western street, six-gun at his side, asking a group of local citizens to help track down a fleeing bad guy, but under Tennessee law, posses still are possible.

Under an 1858 law still on the books, posses can be created to suppress "affrays, riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, insurrections or other breaches of peace." Hammond has done just that, issuing 71 posse identification cards to Hamilton County residents.

His 62-year-old wife, Jeanie, is first on the list. She's also the only woman.

Also on the list are 30 contributors to Hammond's campaign fund, averaging more than $1,000 in donations, according to campaign finance disclosures.

The list also includes Jason Branum whose father, Allen Branum, is second in command at the sheriff's office. Another posse member listed is former Sheriff H.Q. Evatt's son, Michael Evatt, who is chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Education, and County Commissioner Chester Bankston, who received his card earlier this month.

Victor Peter Serodino, who owns Tennessee River barges; Carey V. Brown, who owns several businesses; and William T. Ballard, an orthopedic surgeon, are among the names on the list.

The posse list is a separate group created by Hammond -- apart from part-time employees, reserve deputies, commission cards that allow full-arrest powers and special deputies.

Hammond was emailed questions Thursday afternoon about the list. He was asked if his administration is the first to organize a posse and if he has ever called them to duty. He also was asked why he feels it's necessary to issue such cards and if they are to reward those loyal to his campaign. He did not respond.

"He's on vacation," said Janice Atkinson, public information officer for the sheriff's office. "I think you're being unfair by burdening him with questions when he's out of town."

'opens the door'

To get a posse card, the candidates filled out applications promising they have never been arrested or convicted of any felonies. They also check a box that states, "I understand the identification card has no law enforcement authority nor does it give me the authority to possess firearms and I am not to identify myself as a law enforcement officer, unless the Sheriff of Hamilton County chooses to apply TCA 8-8213(b)."

Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles, who has one of the posse cards, said he's never been called up to join one.

"[Hammond] has never called a posse out to my knowledge," Knowles said. "I don't have any special reason for having it. It was given to me. I'm proud of it."

The idea of a posse is something of a relic from the Old West, which Hammond mentions in a post on the sheriff's office website.

"The wild 'wild west' is actually responsible for producing our modern legendary figure of The Sheriff," Hammond writes. "In reality though, he was a person of real stature, long before the days of Tombstone, Arizona."

Attempts to reach the Tennessee Sheriff's Association for comment were unsuccessful.

Sam Walker, a police accountability expert who teaches at the University of Nebraska, said he's never heard of a sheriff's office still using a posse.

"There have been issues around the country where people have been given honorary deputy badges," he said.

Walker argued that, if the posse is not actually going to be used for any practical purpose, it shouldn't be there at all.

"If they're not going to be used for anything, then why do they exist?" Walker said.

'a novelty thing'

The Bradley County Sheriff's Office had a group known as the sheriff's posse under former Sheriff Dan Gilley, but it was used for community outreach. Gilley served as sheriff from the late 1980s to 2006.

"We had a group of guys in cowboys hats with antique guns who would pose in pictures," said Bradley County Maj. Jon Collins.

The group of deputies and part-time employees took part in parades, attended local barbecues and posed for pictures with children, he said.

"It was a joke," Collins said. "It was sort of a novelty thing Sheriff Gilley did years ago."

Sheriff's departments in Tennessee's largest counties said they don't use the posse process.

"No, we don't have posse ID cards," said Hillary Coward, spokeswoman for the Knox County Sheriff's Office. "Two of our chiefs had never heard of them."

The Shelby and Davidson County sheriff's offices said the same.

Davidson, which has no reserve deputies, has a metropolitan government in which the police department handles most aspects of law enforcement. The sheriff's office manages the jail and handles civil processes such as serving warrants.

who's responsible?

It's unclear whether, under law, any training or certification is needed to be a member of a sheriff's posse in Tennessee.

"I don't know if there's policy or written rule on it, but most of ours are Tennessee handgun-certified, but they have no authority with the sheriff's office," Deputy Chief Branum said.

Fred Wilson, director of operations for the National Sheriffs' Association based in Alexandria, Va., which represents 20,000 sheriff's offices, said some states out West still call posses.

"There's not a national standard for doing something like that," he said.

In areas with small departments, posses may be used if "you can't cover it with what you've got if you've got an emergency," he said.

As an example, Branum explained, a posse might be used for ground searches or as volunteers at special events.

Such a situation occurred last year in Hamilton County when Signal Mountain mother Gail Palmgren went missing. The search teams found nothing until months later, when her body and wrecked red Jeep Rubicon were spotted on the side of Signal Mountain, having plunged off a cliff.

But those volunteers don't appear to have been called as part of a posse. Branum said he's not sure a posse has ever officially been called in Hamilton.

"I don't know that it has been," Branum said. "The sheriff would know more."