The Bradley County Sheriff's Office has suspended all activity with Perry Stone's ministries as the televangelist faces a state investigation and increased public scrutiny over alleged sexual misconduct.
Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson, in a memo sent Monday to all employees, said the suspension will be reconsidered after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation presents its findings to Steve Crump, district attorney general for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.
"I am temporarily suspending all official Sheriff's Office activity related to Omega Center International and Voice of Evangelism," the memo stated. "This includes Sheriff's Office services where either organization contracts the Bradley County Sheriff's Office for extra duty, and anyone who is currently authorized to work an off-duty job with either organization."
Stone has hired sheriff's office employees in the past to provide security at his conferences and weekly gatherings.
Since August 2017, Stone's ministries have paid the Bradley County Sheriff's Office more than $104,000 for off-duty work, according to data from the sheriff's office. Some of that money was paid by The Ramp ministry in 2020 and 2021.
Stone's ministries have also donated $36,500 to the sheriff's office to buy body cameras and cameras for patrol vehicles.
The sheriff's office also used property owned by Stone and his ministry to do K-9 and hostage negotiation training, as well as a SWAT training in 2017, according to a December statement from Lawson to the Times Free Press.
"[Lawson] stated that he wants to do the right thing and wait for a decision from the District Attorney's Office before continuing any contracted services or allowing off-duty employment," Alana Shell, public information officer for the Sheriff's Office, said in a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The TBI confirmed last week it had an active and ongoing case involving Stone. Crump confirmed he requested the investigation.
In a statement to the Times Free Press, Voice of Evangelism spokesperson John Rodriguez said no one questions the integrity of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
"Voice of Evangelism will continue to enjoy a cooperative relationship with the department," Rodriguez said in the statement.
Lt. James Bradford of the Sheriff's Office has continued to work as Stone's security director, despite saying in an April 22, 2020, recording of a conversation obtained by the Times Free Press that he planned to resign from the ministry and that Stone was living a "predatory lifestyle."
The Times Free Press published a story Sunday about the recordings. Per Bradford's request, a reporter provided Bradford ahead of time with a list of questions and with quotes from the recordings involving him. Bradford did not offer any comment.
The suspension of activity between the sheriff's office and Stone likely suspends Bradford's work for the ministry. Bradford declined to answer questions from the Times Free Press on Tuesday and asked the newspaper not to call him again.
Stone, who has an international following as a religious teacher, operates Voice of Evangelism, Omega Center International and the International School of the Word, all based in Cleveland, Tennessee.
In the spring of 2020, the Voice of Evangelism board received at least nine letters from women employed by or connected to Stone's ministry. The letters detailed allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Stone, including groping, showing that he was aroused while fully clothed and rubbing himself, asking women in his ministry about their breasts, kissing the women on the neck and lips, asking them to kiss him in similar ways, messaging them to send him pictures and asking them to massage him.
Stone has said little publicly about the allegations. In the summer of 2020, Stone told followers he was taking a leave from public ministry as he faced health issues and had "acted inappropriately" with some female employees.
In November 2021, speaking from the stage of Omega Center International, Stone said the allegations against him were misinterpreted hugs and other things because he is Italian. He said people were lying about him and will have to answer for it when they die.
Stone's board of directors created a restoration plan for the televangelist in the spring of 2020, which included professional counseling, medical care, removal from social media and absence from ministry for six months.
Voice of Evangelism has defended its handling of the allegations. In a previous statement to the Times Free Press, Rodriguez said the ministry conducted a thorough investigation and took appropriate action.