New Bradley sheriff official promised never to work in law enforcement again after scandal

photo Arnold Botts

When Bradley County Sheriff-elect Eric Watson announced in August that Arnold Botts would be his director of administration, he spoke proudly of Botts' law enforcement and administrative experience as a former Cleveland police chief.

Watson didn't mention a decades-old scandal that could have led to Botts' indictment had he not resigned as Cleveland police chief and promised never to work in law enforcement again.

On Friday, Watson said Botts admitted up front during his job interview he had "made some bad choices in the past."

But the sheriff said he didn't know about a 1991 TBI probe and hearings by the Bradley County grand jury into allegations against Botts.

The case file can't be found in the district attorney general's office.

But Botts' file at Tennessee's Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission includes a revised Bradley County grand jury report from Oct. 25, 1991, that implies Botts resigned in lieu of indictment.

And a member of that long-ago grand jury told the Times Free Press last week that the panel heard women testify that Botts used his position as police chief to coerce them into sex.

In a statement emailed Friday night, Botts acknowledged the investigation by an "outside agency" regarding "my conduct with employees of the Cleveland Police Department" but said he was "not guilty of any criminal misconduct." He did not respond when asked if he disputed that the investigation was related to him coercing women for sexual favors.

Watson said no hint of impropriety arose during Botts' background check, which included multiple agencies including the TBI and FBI.

"There were five different agencies; he had no negative file," Watson said.

He said Botts admitted he had resigned from the Cleveland Police Department but didn't mention any investigation or signing a letter promising never to work in law enforcement again.

He also said that in the months since Botts was hired, "no one's ever contacted me about this - no victim."

• • • • •

Botts, then 39, had worked 18 years at the Cleveland Police Department, 10 of them as chief, when he resigned Oct. 24, 1991.

According to documents in Botts' POST file, the TBI began investigating him in December 1990 at the request of then-District Attorney General Jerry Estes.

On Oct. 23, 1991, the results of that investigation, along with testimony from victims and witnesses, were presented to the Bradley County grand jury, the panel's report states.

The grand juror, who spoke to the Times Free Press on condition of anonymity, said the victims had not come forward voluntarily but had been subpoenaed. The grand juror remembered the women weeping as they testified about what had happened to them and their fear of their names becoming public.

Based on what they heard, grand jurors crafted an initial report and recommendations and had Estes deliver copies to Police Commissioner Mitchell Lyle, Mayor Tom Rowland and members of the City Commission. Estes was told to come back before the grand jury in two days.

Botts' typed Oct. 24 resignation letter to Lyle did not reference the grand jury hearing or any specific allegations. Botts wrote:

"In reviewing my career with the Department, I have come to the conclusion that certain past instances of poor judgment, on my part, have affected my ability to continue to effectively serve this Department as a police officer.

"Therefore, I hereby resign from my position as Chief of Police, and from the Police Department, effective upon your receipt of this letter."

In a separate letter the same day to Estes, Botts confirmed that he had resigned and wrote: "You are hereby assured that I do not intend to, and will not, at any time in the future, re-enter public law enforcement in any capacity."

On Oct. 25, 1991, the grand jury met again and issued a revised report that stated in part:

(I)t was reported to the Grand Jury that Arnold Botts had resigned as Cleveland City Police Chief, and will not ever re-enter public law enforcement in any capacity, which the Grand Jury finds appropriate under the circumstances."

"Further action by the Grand Jury would be extremely embarrassing and traumatic to the victims heard by the Grand Jury, their families and children. In view of this and the resignation of Arnold Botts as Police Chief, and a law enforcement officer, the Grand Jury will take no further action."

Estes told the Chattanooga Times at the time that the grand jury records had been sealed and no further information would be released.

On Nov. 5, 1991, and again in March 1992, Estes wrote to the POST Commission asking that Botts be "permanently decertified" as a police officer.

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He wrote that the revised grand jury report of Oct. 25, 1991, "was entered based on representations made to me by Botts" and confirmed by Botts' written promise to stay out of law enforcement.

"I can state to the Commission without any question whatsoever that the intent and purposes of all those involved in the investigation concerning Mr. Botts, including the Bradley County Grand Jury, was that Mr. Botts should be permanently decertified and never allowed to enter law enforcement again."

In a return letter to Estes on April 26, 1993, POST Commission Executive Secretary Bill Thomas wrote that the commission "is not empowered to prevent Mr. Botts from requesting reinstatement of certification."

He quoted Tennessee law, T.C.A. 38-8-105(b), which says it's a misdemeanor to appoint or pay someone as a police officer knowing that person doesn't meet the minimum qualifications.

One of those qualifications is being of good moral character.

"... (I)t is my opinion that the circumstances which were reported to the Grand Jury ... coupled with your request for Decertification of Mr. Botts, would certainly jeopardize any opportunity for his reinstatement," Thomas wrote. "It is further my opinion that the current Commission or any subsequent Commission that may follow would honor the District Attorney General and Bradley County Grand Jury's intent that Mr. Botts not serve in a law enforcement capacity in Tennessee."

Asked for comment last week, Estes said it has been his policy since leaving office not to speak about anything that happened during his time as DA.

On Friday, current POST Executive Secretary Brian Grisham said through a spokeswoman that Botts "is not eligible through POST for recertification."

Though Botts is enrolled in the law enforcement academy at Cleveland State Community College, "we will not recertify him," Grisham said.

• • • • •

Watson said Botts is going to the academy only so he will be up to date on new laws and procedures.

"We never intended to send it in for certification," Watson said.

He stressed that Botts was never charged with any crime.

"He did a lot of good for the city of Cleveland ... and he's done a great job since he's been with us," Watson said.

Watson also said he had checked with the district attorney general's office for any negative information on Botts during the background check, and that none was found.

New District Attorney General Steve Crump also said he had never seen the documents in the POST file.

He remembered that when he was a young assistant prosecutor under Estes, he had once been assigned to get some document from what he described as "a huge file" on Botts. But he said he never read the file.

During Watson's transition, Crump said, the sheriff asked him to check for a file on Botts and he couldn't find one, either at the downtown office or in storage at the Bradley County Justice Center.

He said he asked retiring DA Steve Bebb if there had ever been such a file.

"He said, 'I don't know, we shredded a bunch of stuff. You're welcome to look,'" Crump recalled.

"I know there was a file," he said. "I am confident there is not a file contained in the office now."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.