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Steve Lawson
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Steve Lawson's resignation letter

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Capt. Brian Quinn

Saying he "can no longer respect or believe the person I work for," the captain over the Criminal Investigations Division at the Bradley County Sheriff's Office resigned Wednesday and picked up papers to challenge indicted incumbent Sheriff Eric Watson.

"I have done my best to lead my division, and to be a positive influence within the management team, despite the dark cloud that has hung over the department for so long," Capt. Steve Lawson wrote in his resignation letter to Chief Deputy Brian Smith.

The sheriff's office has been under investigation by the TBI for some 17 months on multiple allegations against Watson. He faces trial Jan. 22 on 12 felony counts of having or using forged auto titles in connection with his side business as a used-car salesman. That separate investigation by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and the Tennessee Department of Revenue arose from a Times Free Press investigation of the sheriff buying cars in Florida and bringing them to Tennessee to sell.

A separate investigation of the sheriff's office finances by the Tennessee comptroller's office ended in December with no findings of wrongdoing.

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Lawson noted in his letter that he signed on when Watson was elected in 2014 and that his division has "outstanding resolution rates for burglaries and other major crimes."

However, he added, "I feel the time has come for me to separate myself from this administration. When I can no longer respect or believe the person I work for, I know it is time to make the difficult decision to part ways."

He added, "I love the sheriff's department and I have a strong emotional bond with the men and women here who have continued to do such a tremendous job under the most difficult of circumstances."

Lawson, the son and nephew of past Bradley County sheriffs, served as chief of criminal investigations under former sheriff Tim Gobble. He ran for the top job as a Democrat in 2010 but lost to Republican Jim Ruth. After joining Watson's team, Lawson joined the Republican Party.

Watson has announced he will seek re-election, but no one else has picked up papers for the post. The qualifying deadline is Feb. 15.

The sheriff's office said in a news release that Capt. Brian Quinn will be the new captain over criminal investigations.

Quinn joined the Bradley sheriff's office in 1993 after serving as a dispatcher at the Cleveland Police Department. He took a two-year break in 2008 to serve as safety/security coordinator in local schools and came back to the sheriff's office in 2010, according to a news release.

Quinn holds a degree in business administration and management from Bryan College, where he has completed a number of leadership training courses. He previously served as a lieutenant in the patrol and judicial services divisions and captain in the patrol and criminal investigations divisions.

He also is an instructor at Cleveland State Community College's Law Enforcement Academy.

In the release, Watson did not mention Lawson's departure or his pointed words about his former boss, but he did say the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's 2016 crime report ranked the sheriff's office fourth in the state for its rate of solving burglaries.

He praised Quinn as a hardworking officer and an "outstanding investigator" who will be "a tremendous asset to my Command Staff."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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Eric Watson's statement naming Quinn as new CID chief

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This story was updated at 11:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.

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