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A public works employee is on paid administrative leave after he allegedly used a city-owned phone, computer and car in activities as a prostitute, according to city documents.

The city began investigating Sherman Higdon and his activities during his work as an equipment operator in the emergency office in November after several of his coworkers noticed sexually explicit phone calls, text messages and images that were sent by local men to the department's shared cellphone, according to information released by the city's Human Resources office.

The documents say multiple city employees testified that the department phone, which is shared by all three shifts, received pictures of naked men and inquiries about a Craigslist ad.

Some employees also stated that Higdon, who worked alone during the night shift, regularly "wiped" the phone of all calls and texts sent or received while the phone was in his possession before handing it over to the next shift, a violation of policy since that material is public record. A total of seven employees were interviewed by Human Resources Compliance Officer Jay Piercy.

A forensic investigation conducted by the city's Internal Audit Office also found "multiple male pornographic graphics" on a department computer, saved in a folder under Higdon's login. However, investigators noted that the photos were not definitive proof that prostitution occurred.

Higdon denied during questioning ever seeing sexually explicit images on either device and said he didn't know how the images of male genitalia wound up on the computer, according to the documents.

Higdon also claimed he and other employees shared login information for the computer, but the people who he said had his login information denied ever having access to his account.

Investigators further discovered that, according to the tracker attached to Higdon's city car, he spent multiple hours during his shift parked in a lot in the 3100 block of Kings Point Road, next to a TVA Public Recreation Area near Chickamauga Dam.

When asked about why he had spent two to three hours there every night between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23, he told Piercy he had been there talking with friends who were officers of the police department.

Public Works Administrator Lee Norris said he was unaware of allegations faced by Higdon and directed further inquiries to a spokeswoman at Mayor Andy Berke's office.

The city's Human Resources director, Todd Dockery, acknowledged the investigation in a statement released Tuesday night but didn't elaborate.

"With regards to the recent Higdon investigation, while I can not comment on specifics of this particular situation, I will say that anytime a city employee feels the need to report potential or perceived inappropriate workplace conduct, the Human Resources department will work to obtain as much information as possible and talk with potential witnesses as part of a thorough investigation process," he said. "After the investigation is completed, we then work with the department leadership as they determine any disciplinary measures that will take place. This process helps to ensure employees are given an opportunity to be heard and as much information as possible is collected to help make an informed decision."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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