Coty Wamp ousts Neal Pinkston for Republican nomination for Hamilton County district attorney

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Coty Wamp makes a statement to members of the media at the Edwin Hotel on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Law enforcement attorney Coty Wamp on Tuesday decisively defeated eight-year incumbent Neal Pinkston for the Republican nomination for Hamilton County district attorney.

Wamp received more than 70% of the vote, according to preliminary vote totals released by the Hamilton County Elections Commission.

"Nobody in this county had to trust me to win this primary. Nobody in this county had to vote for or support a 33-year-old candidate for district attorney," Wamp said as she addressed the media in the lobby of the Edwin Hotel on Tuesday night. "But it's a new day. It's going to be a new day in criminal justice on Sept. 1. It's going to be a new day for parts of this community that have been hurting."

Wamp said she had a "grateful heart" and thanked her supporters and those who trusted her with their vote. She also thanked Pinkston, saying he served the county well for eight years.

Pinkston did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday night.

Wamp will face Democrat John Allen Brooks in the August general election. He was unopposed in the primary. The winner will take office in September.

Wamp, 33, is general counsel for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

Pinkston, 47, has faced scrutiny since May 2021 when it came to light that he had married an employee and hired her brother.

Pinkston hired Melydia Clewell, a former television journalist, in 2015 and married her in 2019.

Clewell started at the DA's office as a public information officer and later was promoted to chief of staff. She is still on Pinkston's staff, at a salary of $91,000 a year.

In 2020, Pinkston hired his wife's brother, Kerry Clewell, as an investigator. He will come off the county's payroll effective May 17, according to a recent memo by a county official.

Investigators for the Tennessee Comptroller's Office have found that Pinkston violated the state's nepotism law, the Tennessee State Employees Uniform Nepotism Policy Act, by employing his wife and her brother.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said he agreed with the comptroller's determination.

Both Clewells have been on paid leave since the February letters from the state comptroller and attorney general.

Pinkston last year said the employment of his relatives was legally and ethically sound.

He blamed the controversy on Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who repeatedly raised the issue. Pinkston claimed the commissioner was retaliating because Pinkston prosecuted Boyd in 2018 on extortion charges. Prosecutors claimed Boyd tried to threaten a political rival with the release of damaging information if the person did not withdraw. The charges were dismissed.

Wamp had served as general counsel for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office since 2020. Before that, she served as an assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District. She also worked as an assistant public defender in the 11th Judicial District.

Wamp is the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who represented Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District from 1995 to 2011, and sister of Weston Wamp, who on Tuesday won a much closer race for the GOP nomination for Hamilton County mayor.

Coty Wamp received endorsements from 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. She also was endorsed by the Chattanooga Fire Fighters Association, Local #820.

Wamp said Tuesday night that if she is elected in August, her first action will be to restore the position of child sex abuse prosecutor at the Children's Advocacy Center at East Gate.

During the campaign, she promised that if elected she would prosecute crimes at a significantly faster rate than Pinkston. She pledged to:

- Punish people convicted for manufacturing, selling or delivering heroin and fentanyl.

- Improve the relationship between law enforcement and the district attorney's office.

- Enact policy changes that create a more efficient criminal justice system.

- Create a gang and violent crime unit in the DA's office that replaces the current cold case unit, which Pinkston started.

Wamp and Pinkston differed on how to handle cold cases. Pinkston said the unit helps ensure no crimes go unpunished in the county. The unit has looked into 154 cases and solved 25.

Wamp proposed eliminating the unit in order to put more resources toward gang and violent crimes. She said cases should be treated the same regardless of whether they are a week old or decades old.

She said the district attorney's office does not have unlimited resources and that Pinkston focused too much on the unit.

During the campaign, Pinkston accused Wamp of meddling in the case of a shooting in Soddy-Daisy.

He asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to review whether Wamp participated in obstruction of justice in the aftermath of the shooting, claiming victims recanted their original story after interacting with Wamp.

Wamp said she got involved because the wrong man was arrested in the shooting.

Wamp also faced criticism from the Chattanooga NAACP, which demanded an apology after she said she cannot completely support the organization because of how it treats police officers. She accused the organization of mistreating officers and not presenting adequate statistics on crime.

On Tuesday night, Wamp said she will spend the summer campaigning across Hamilton County from Alton Park to Ooltewah, Hixson to East Lake Courts.

"I will be everywhere, and I will be listening," she said. "I will be learning 'cause I want to work with everybody."

Contact Alison Gerber at or 423-757-6408. Follow her on Twitter at @aligerb.