Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston has asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into alleged witness tampering involving political rival Coty Wamp.
The two are running against each other for DA in the Republican primary election on May 3. Pinkston declined to comment beyond the Jan. 6 referral, submitted in response to a shooting two days earlier in Soddy-Daisy. It alleges Wamp, who is legal counsel for Sheriff Jim Hammond, participated in obstruction of justice in the aftermath.
In the referral, Pinkston stated the Soddy-Daisy Police Department relayed that Wamp notified the department it had the wrong suspect in custody following the shooting, in which no one was injured.
In the referral, Pinkston said the victims took back their original story after their interactions with Wamp.
"After this alleged intervention, victims recount original story, deny Hugo Garcia Padilla is suspect and now accuse Hugo Garcia Robles," he wrote in the document, apparently intending to spell recant.
"[Soddy-Daisy Police Department] states victims are acting strangely after interaction with [Hamilton County Sheriff's Office] Legal Counsel Wamp and/or others on her behalf that are unknown at this time."
TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine confirmed the agency is investigating.
"We don't have much to offer, other than to confirm we have received a request, from District Attorney General Neal Pinkston, to investigate the Soddy-Daisy incident you've referenced," DeVine said. "The case remains active and ongoing at this time."
The Soddy-Daisy Police Department declined to comment, as the case has been turned over to TBI.
An arrest report says police went to an address on Barbee Road where residents complained that a Hugo Garcia-Parilla came to the home intoxicated and started arguing.
"He advised that Hugo then pulled a pistol out and shot at him about hitting his pregnant girlfriend," the report says, adding that the woman jumped out of the way before the pistol was fired, and a bullet was fired into the ground.
The report says the man left the scene in a four-door gray F-150 truck, and the shooting victims gave police an address on Ely Road in Chattanooga, where such a truck was spotted and the man was arrested.
In Pinkston's referral to the TBI, the man who was arrested is listed as Hugo Garcia Padilla, not Parilla as it's spelled in the police report.
The referral says Jeff Cannon, owner of Tucker Construction, is an employer of the man who was arrested and interfered with the "natural progression of criminal case by asking others to set case for special hearing within next 24 hours, with intention of preventing deportation of Padilla."
In a Saturday phone interview, Cannon said Padilla is not, and never has been, an employee of his business. Rather, he said, he is an acquaintance.
"He is in the immigration process," Cannon said. "He is doing everything he can within the law to become a citizen."
Cannon said he had contrasting experiences with Pinkston and Wamp while attempting to help Garcia.
"My experience with the DA is seven unanswered phone calls," Cannon said. "My experience with Coty is that 'We've got to get to the bottom of this because there is a guilty man out there on the streets.'"
Wamp told the Times Free Press by phone Monday that Cannon, an acquaintance, reached out to her regarding the situation.
"All I was doing was helping victims communicate with the Soddy-Daisy Police Department," Wamp said Monday. "The right thing to do is always the right thing to do. Not only am I confident I handled the situation right, I would not do anything different tomorrow."
She said she was not contacted as legal counsel to Sheriff Hammond, but as a private citizen who cares about justice.
In response to Pinkston's allegations, Wamp released a statement over the weekend addressing the situation.
"As to the facts surrounding this fabricated narrative our DA has created for his own political gain, I want to make one thing very clear - I will always seek justice and pursue truth," she said. "If I ever come across information that causes me to believe a potentially innocent person has been wrongly accused or incarcerated, just as I did in this situation, I will do everything in my power to remedy it, because I have both an ethical duty as a lawyer to do so but also a moral obligation as a human being."
Sheriff Hammond said he has agreed with other law enforcement agencies not to comment on the case, but he said of Wamp, "She's done a great job."
Padilla on Saturday told the Times Free Press he was sleeping and very ill at the time police knocked on his doors and that he has since been diagnosed with COVID-19.
He told the Times Free Press the police had it all wrong.
"I explained to them a hundred times they had the wrong address and I was the wrong person," Padilla said. "I was asleep, and I was sick. I was real scared. I was worrying about my life."
Padilla, 40, was charged with reckless endangerment and two counts of aggravated assault. He has since been released from jail and has a court date in Soddy-Daisy on Feb. 1.
Leabordo Alberto Maya Gonzalez, who identified himself as one of two victims of the shooting, also told the Times Free Press that he has made it clear that Padilla was not the shooter.
"The police came to my house and they showed me the picture of the one he got, but I showed him he was the wrong guy," Gonzalez said.
In Wamp's statement, she called the case an example of how Pinkston is unfit for office.
"I cannot say I am surprised my opponent has chosen to stoop to this level, but desperate people do desperate things," she said. "This is a prime example of why I'm running for office. How convenient our district attorney has asked TBI to investigate one attorney in Chattanooga, and that attorney just happens to be his only political opponent."
In a prepared statement, Pinkston said he was contacted by the Soddy Daisy police and responded appropriately.
"After being advised of all available known facts, I met and spoke with Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Austin Garrett," the statement said. "With the support of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the Soddy Daisy Police Department, I made a written request to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate a shooting that occurred in Soddy Daisy as well as potential issues of witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Under Tennessee state law, the elected District Attorney General is the only individual who can request the Bureau's investigative services. I made this request in the performance of my job duties. Nothing else, nothing more."
Staff writer La Shawn Pagan contributed to this report.
Contact Logan Hullinger at email@example.com or 814-319-5158. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.