Hamilton County DA chronicles lack of cooperation for investigation of former deputy

Hammond says all demands were met, and 'this is a first rate sheriff's office'

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / District attorney Neal Pinkston

In a new court filing, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston is calling the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office to task for an alleged lack of cooperation with the criminal investigation into former deputy Daniel Wilkey, who faces 44 criminal charges.

The affidavit was filed in federal court on Monday in support of a motion by alleged victims of Wilkey who are suing the county.

The plaintiffs are seeking sanctions against the county after it disseminated dashboard camera videos to lawyers for the accused deputies and to the district attorney's office but not to the lawyers for the plaintiffs until after those lawyers asked for copies.

"I have an explanation for all these things [that have] come out. I'm extremely irritated with the district attorney at this point, and I don't think that's any secret," Sheriff Jim Hammond said in an interview with the Times Free Press. "So he's doing affidavits out there that I think are way off the mark of what reality is. A lot of it concerns the Wilkey case with those videotapes and what we supplied and didn't....

"We supplied them everything they wanted," Hammond said, adding, "This is a first rate sheriff's office."

In the affidavit, Pinkston said he asked for a copy of the sheriff's office policy manual the week after his office became aware of the Wilkey "performing what appears to be an anal cavity search" of a man on the side of a Soddy-Daisy road.

"I subsequently learned no such policy manual exists, but was told all of the department's policies would be compiled and burned onto a disc that would be delivered to my office," Pinkston wrote.

Hammond told the Times Free Press his policies exist, although not compiled into a manual.

"This day and age, would you issue a book for everybody?" he said. "No, no, no, not for 500 employees, you wouldn't do that.

"But I can tell you this, every employee has access to it. The public can get what they need out of that."

Pinkston's affidavit said that he then asked for copies of all of Wilkey's dashboard camera footage for 2019 after an influx of reports from both citizens and defense attorneys alleging inappropriate and possibly criminal behavior by Wilkey.

On Sept. 17, Pinkston's office contacted Chief Deputy Austin Garrett in an attempt to obtain the disc containing the department's policies and the dashboard camera videos.

Garrett was informed that Pinkston believed "someone in the sheriff's office was intentionally making it more difficult than necessary for us to acquire the videos, in a deliberate attempt to slow down our investigation," Pinkston wrote.

Garrett denied any attempt to slow the investigation, Pinkston notes, and a disc containing the sheriff's office policies was delivered to his office that afternoon.

As for the videos, Pinkston said he received a phone call from Garrett that same day, during which Garrett said "it would be another 120 to 180 days before we would receive the Wilkey videos."

That was an "inordinate amount of time to copy all the videos," Pinkston has previously said. So he contacted the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and two days later, an agent arrived in Chattanooga to copy the videos.

By 1 p.m. that same day, the agent was able to copy 578 videos recorded by Wilkey's dashboard camera.

Hammond responded in the Times Free Press interview, "Yes, the TBI did come in, but guess who showed the TBI how to do it and helped them get it done. The sheriff's office, did you see that mentioned in there? No."

Pinkston's affidavit went on to say that more videos were turned over to the DA after a federal judge ordered county attorneys to file weekly reports to determine which videos still existed following a "catastrophic data loss" that affected the sheriff's office only server used to store dashboard camera videos and caused thousands of videos to disappear.

"I was given no explanation of how the Sheriff's Office knew these videos had been originally excluded, why they had been excluded or how the videos were retrieved after being told nothing was recoverable," Pinkston wrote of the 12 additional videos delivered to his office in May.

For the next several week's Pinkston's office reviewed the 578 videos, documenting at least 160 traffic stops. Of those, 98 depicted potential criminal activity, Pinkston wrote in his affidavit.

By Dec. 10, 2019, a grand jury indicted Wilkey on 44 criminal charges, including six counts of sexual battery, two counts of rape and nine counts of official oppression. Many of those charges stem from four traffic stops.

Once January arrived, Pinkston's office began considering more criminal charges against Wilkey relating to the other traffic stops, he said, and decided it would be beneficial to view dashboard camera footage from other deputies who responded to the same traffic stops.

That's when Pinkston's office was informed of the dashboard camera server failure, "and they had no ability to recover any dash cam videos from a fifteen-month period including the first seven months of 2019."

"This catastrophic video failure prohibits out ability to compare witness statements with other deputies' dash cam videos of what actually happened during most of the 98 questionable stops," Pinkston wrote. "Additionally, it prohibits my office from investigating other potential criminal activity."

Regarding the Wilkey videos, Hammond said, "Wilkey's -- and anything else the district attorney asked for -- was supplied to it.

"They're playing games with wording. When this thing comes to trial, every pertinent fact that is needed will be furnished."

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.