A state police training commission report accuses the Grundy County Sheriff's Office of employing uncertified deputies — including one assigned as a resource officer who sat in a chair in a school's office while the entry doors were propped open.
Members of the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission said during their July meeting they were alarmed by Sheriff Heath Gunter's attitude.
Franklin Police Chief and Commission Vice Chair Deborah Faulkner was critical of the lack of apparent concern on the sheriff's part about commission regulations and the fact that school doors are being left open when state agencies are trying to improve school safety.
"This is appalling," Faulkner said. "This is ridiculous. It's outrageous, and he's like thumbing his nose at the rules and regulations of the commission."
The commission's rules apply to all certified officers and departments in Tennessee, commission spokesperson Kevin Walters said Thursday in an email.
Commission Chair Chad Partin, the Coffee County sheriff, said Gunter continues to give the organization an "I don't care attitude."
"We've had our whole investigative division down there," Partin said during the July 21 meeting.
Gunter, who wasn't present at the meeting, had been given step-by-step instructions and offered any help he needed, Partin said.
In a statement sent to Chattanooga television stations, Gunter said he had launched an investigation and suspended the chief deputy, who was accused of interfering in the booking process of an attempted murder suspect, and a deputy accused of lying to dispatchers.
However, commission officials said Thursday their office hadn't been informed of any employee discipline or changes in employment status. Reports on changes in employment status are required by the commission.
Grundy County District Attorney Courtney C. Lynch also said she had received no confirmation of the suspensions or investigation.
"Our office is aware of and looking into the allegations," Lynch said via email. "We are, of course, concerned for the citizens of Grundy County."
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reached out to Gunter for comment by phone, text, email, social media messages sent to his personal page and the Sheriff's Office page but has received no response.
The commission has requested Gunter come before the panel next month to address issues such as deputies — at least three — working alone without required training or supervision, including the one who was working as a full-time school resource officer, according to the commission report.
One of the commission's investigators, Bruce Cantrelle, testified before the panel July 21, outlining findings of the investigation, which grew out of an audit he was performing at the office in April when he discovered a lack of documented information in officers' employment files, according to the April audit and June report. The report describes a less-than-cooperative attitude on the part of Gunter, who was elected in August 2022 and lost 21 deputies the night before he took office.
"During my audit," Cantrelle said, "complaints began to come in from current and former deputies and officers from outside agencies."
At least three deputies at the Grundy County Sheriff's Office were found to be working alone as a law enforcement officer without required training and without a supervising officer present who had the required training.
Cantrelle, commission member and Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy Assistant Director Rafael Bello and Investigator Kevin Krieb made school visits May 4 to Tracy City Elementary School, where they were told the school hadn't had a resource officer all year, the report states, and May 23, they visited Swiss Memorial Elementary School in Guetli-Laager, where they found a deputy working without a supervisor.
The deputy "stated that he has been working as a full-time officer," Cantrelle said in the report, "and has been working by himself since he started."
Krieb said in the report he was alarmed by what officials found as soon as they got to Swiss Elementary.
"When we approached the school, we noticed that the front doors were propped open, and we walked right inside the school," Krieb said, noting investigators found the uncertified deputy sitting in a chair in the main office.
State officials returned to the Sheriff's Office to review employee time sheets and talk with Gunter about the deficiencies identified and deputies, including the one at the school, found to be working without training or in need of additional training.
"While we were talking with Sheriff Gunter, he stated, 'POST just left one of my schools. I'm keyed up on POST being at my school,'" Cantrelle said in the report. "Sheriff Gunter was visibly bothered by the presence of POST both in his office and at schools in Grundy County."
The commission unanimously approved a motion to request Gunter come to the next commission meeting Aug. 18. Gunter cannot be commanded to attend, commissioners agreed, but he would be asked to discuss the issues with commissioners at their next regular meeting.