DA warns of problems if he's taken off Gatlinburg detective's perjury case

Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston speaks to the press in this file photo.
photo Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/15/16. Detective Rodney Burns of the Gatlinburg Police Department is sworn in as a witness before Judge Robert Philyaw during a preliminary hearing for the Ooltewah High School basketball coaches and the school's athletic director in Hamilton County Juvenile Court on February 25, 2016. Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston charged head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley with failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse in connection with the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by his basketball teammates Dec. 22, 2015.

More Ooltewah rape case stories

It's still undecided if Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston will continue prosecuting Gatlinburg Police Department Detective Rodney Burns, who faces charges of aggravated perjury in connection with the Ooltewah High School rape.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz said Tuesday he needs more time before deciding if it's a conflict of interest for Pinkston to continue with the prosecution.

Burns faces two charges of aggravated perjury, a class D felony that carries a sentence between two and four years behind bars, because of his February testimony in the case.

Burns' attorneys, Bryan Delius and Stephen Greer, argued in previously filed motions and in court Tuesday that Pinkston should not be allowed to prosecute, claiming it's a conflict of interest because of the $300,000 defamation lawsuit Burns filed against him in March.

Greer told the court there is no way Pinkston can "now come into this court and claim he is not somehow tainted by that proceeding.

"The central theme of this issue is the conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety," Greer continued.

But Pinkston was quick to argue that a series of problems will arise if defendants, like Burns, are able to file civil lawsuits and have prosecutors removed from their cases.

Pinkston clarified that he had asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate Burns in February, a month prior to the civil lawsuit being filed. The Hamilton County grand jury indictment was issued in May.

Pinkston also alleged in a previously filed motion and again in court Tuesday that he was contacted on Burns' behalf and was told the civil suit would be dropped if he stopped prosecuting the case.

Greer and Delius refuted that, saying local attorney Jerry Summers may have told Pinkston that, but he was not acting on behalf of Burns' defense.

Pinkston said Greer made reference to the deal in front of him and Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope. He said Pope will submit an affidavit regarding the conversation by Friday.

When asked by Greenholtz if that happened, Greer said he could not recollect the conversation.

Summers did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

Greenholtz said if a deal was proposed it "raises a whole lot of issues."

The next hearing in Burns' case is scheduled for Sept. 20, and Greenholtz said he will likely release an opinion on these matters in advance.

Greenholtz also ruled Tuesday to deny two of Burns' other motions for dismissal.

Delius argued the case should also be dismissed because Pinkston is a "critical witness" in it, and Pinkston released libelous statements against Burns.

After hearing arguments, Greenholtz said he can't see why Pinkston is a needed witness.

Greenholtz also said the statements made by Pinkston's office, which Delius was questioning, were likely in response to a news release sent from Delius. In the release, Delius called Pinkston's allegations "base" and "reckless," and accused him of acting out of political motivation.

Talking about the release, Greenholtz said, "I wonder if you went a little farther than you needed to."

Burns has maintained his innocence, claiming he didn't perjure himself during the testimony. But the TBI's investigation found he was "untruthful."

According to the grand jury indictment, Burns "unlawfully and with intent to deceive" made two false statements under oath during his testimony.

After being indicted in May, Burns turned himself in at the Hamilton County Jail and was released on a $2,500 bond.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or krainwater@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.