District Attorney Pinkston cites work on cold cases as key factor in re-election bid

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Coty Wamp looks on as Neal Pinkston speaks during the district attorney debate at the Red Stone Estates senior living facility on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston on Monday emphasized the importance of his office's cold case unit as a key factor in why he should be re-elected.

The Republican's remarks at a Hamilton County Pachyderm Club meeting allowed for a more detailed campaign pitch after a short-lived debate the week prior with challenger Coty Wamp, also a Republican.

Wamp, who at the debate questioned Pinkston's priorities and said the county doesn't have a cold case issue, was also present at Monday's meeting.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County DA opponents Pinkston, Wamp clash at first event together)

"There are 200 unsolved homicides in this county, and so that means that there could be 200 killers that walk amongst us and around us," Pinkston said. "The families who don't know who killed their loved ones deserve to know."

A cold case is any homicide case that hasn't been resolved within a five-year period, Pinkston said.

There have been 65 unsolved cases deemed to be cold cases in the past decade, Pinkston said.

His office Wednesday added that the unit has looked into 154 cases and solved 25 since he created the unit in 2014 after taking office.

The unit is composed of five individuals from the district attorney's office, one from the Chattanooga Police Department and one from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

(READ MORE: Wamp receives police union endorsements as race heats up)

Pinkston's focus on the cold case unit last week prompted Wamp, who serves as general counsel for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, to claim the county does not have a cold case problem and that his priorities weren't straight.

In addition, she said in a follow-up phone interview Monday, cold cases have grown during Pinkston's tenure in office.

"By having a cold case unit in the DA's office we are creating cold cases because we are not focusing on the homicides that are occurring right now," Wamp said.

While Pinkston has relied on citing his experience as a prosecutor, Wamp has touted support from police unions as one reason for her being the best candidate.

Wamp earlier this month was endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 673 and the Fraternal Order of Police Rock City Lodge #22, which represent officers from both the county and the city of Chattanooga.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County officials don't see issues with hiring qualified family members)

Pinkston on Monday, however, said he does not lack police support from rank-and-file officers.

"They know what my integrity is, and I know what their integrity is," Pinkston said, adding that over the past two weeks he has received a flurry of support from officers who have reached out to him.

Another issue Pinkston addressed Monday that was also brought up by Wamp last week is the amount of information he gives the public about investigations.

At the meeting, he emphasized the importance of ethics as a district attorney and that oftentimes the office would be in conflict with those ethics if they speak too much about ongoing cases.

"Of course, we would love to have a chance to respond," he said. "Our role is first as a lawyer and second as a prosecutor. We can't go into all of those issues. We do our speaking in court."

The campaign heading into the May 3 primary election comes at the same time as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation looks into a recent gunshot incident in Soddy-Daisy and Wamp's after-the-fact involvement in speaking to witnesses and victims.

In a Jan. 6 referral to TBI, the district attorney alleged Wamp participated in obstruction of justice in the aftermath of a gunshot on Barbee Road in which no one was injured. The bullet went into the ground.

In the referral, Pinkston said the Soddy-Daisy Police Department relayed that Wamp notified the department it had the wrong suspect in custody following the incident. Wamp has portrayed her actions as becoming involved in the interest of justice, while Pinkston has been concerned her involvement was inappropriate.

Pinkston has said the victims took back their original stories after their interactions with Wamp.

TBI officials have said that investigative findings will be shared with the district attorney.

Pinkston on Wednesday declined to comment on the status of the investigation and whether he has any additional information.

Contact Logan Hullinger at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com or 814-319-5158. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.