“"I know the mayor, and I believe and trust him. If he denies it, that's good enough for me. So I don't think I need to go any further than that."”
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke on Wednesday denied allegations that he maintained a sexual relationship with a senior adviser, while the county's district attorney said he might ask for an investigation into a related domestic dispute.
Berke issued a statement Wednesday denying allegations that arose after his adviser's husband, 54-year-old Bobby Stone, was arrested for domestic assault this weekend. As soon as Stone went to jail, rumors began to spread that he attacked his wife, Lacie Stone, 38, after discovering she was allegedly involved romantically with Berke, who is also married.
Berke said Bobby Stone was lying.
"Upon being arrested and charged, her husband made numerous false allegations about me and other people involved in city government," Berke said. "It is unfortunate that this situation escalated to the point of a domestic assault. Let me be clear: the allegations are absolutely false."
Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, said his office is strongly considering asking the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate how police handled the incident.
She said the nature of the allegations and the statements issued by the city and police after the arrest "created unusual concerns for our prosecution about this case."
"Our office has a duty to ensure every person charged with a crime in Hamilton County is treated fairly, that the integrity of the process is upheld and that no defendant is deprived due process," she said Wednesday evening.
Chattanooga City Council members reacted to the allegations with concern, but most emphasized the rumors are unconfirmed.
"All I have heard is one unsubstantiated rumor that keeps being perpetuated, and that is hardly a reason to call for an investigation," Councilman Chris Anderson said.
"I know the mayor, and I believe and trust him," Councilman Moses Freeman said. "If he denies it, that's good enough for me. So I don't think I need to go any further than that."
But Councilman Larry Grohn said some of the circumstances around the alleged assault raise red flags for him — although he also reiterated that "allegations are allegations."
The domestic incident happened around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, according to police records.
Lacie Stone told police she and her husband fought over her phone while at their home in North Chattanooga. She said her phone was crushed during the disagreement, according to a police report.
Bobby Stone admitted to investigators that he dragged his wife by the belt to the door of their home and told her to leave during the fight, according to the report. He also said Lacie Stone hit him in the forehead during the struggle as she tried to keep the phone.
Both Bobby Stone and Lacie Stone showed evidence of injuries, according to the report, but investigators determined that Bobby was the primary aggressor.
When Lacie Stone got into a vehicle and started to leave her home, her husband threw a rock into the back windshield and shattered it, according to the report, which says he admitted during the police interview that he threw the rock.
At that point, Lacie Stone called Police Chief Fred Fletcher, who told her to come to his house, Fletcher confirmed. When she arrived, Fletcher called police communications and asked the watch commander to send officers to his home to interview Lacie Stone and investigate, he said.
"I made it clear that this incident will be investigated the same as any other crime," Fletcher said in a statement.
The police department initially refused to identify Fletcher as the person who Lacie Stone called for help, and in the police report filed for Bobby Stone's arrest, the person she called is referred to only as "a friend who worked at the police department."
Police said Fletcher's name was initially withheld because the release of his name could have "negatively impacted the investigation," and said it was released after all interviews were finished.
Fletcher reiterated in the statement Wednesday that he and Lacie Stone are friends. They are also neighbors and work together professionally. Fletcher said he and his wife had dinner with Bobby and Lacie Stone at the Stones' house a few hours before the incident, and that there was no indication that anything was wrong when he left the home.
"About an hour after I left the home, I received a panicked phone call from Mrs. Stone stating Mr. Stone had hurt her," Fletcher said. "I instructed Mrs. Stone to come to my home where I knew she would be safe."
He declined to comment beyond his written statement.
After Fletcher called for officers to investigate, police took Bobby Stone into custody for "several hours," his attorney, Lee Davis, said in a statement Wednesday. Bobby Stone was arrested and charged with domestic assault and malicious vandalism. He declined to comment when reached Monday.
Davis said both Fletcher and Berke's public comments about the situation could compromise Bobby Stone's chance of having fair proceedings in court.
"I ask that Chief Fletcher and Mayor Berke refrain from making further self-serving statements and allow the parties the privacy they deserve until this matter can be fairly decided by an impartial judge," he said. "These publicly released comments that officials choose to make are clearly intended to influence the public and possibly the court. That is fundamentally wrong."
Lacie Stone also asked for privacy Wednesday.
"I am mortified that issues in my private life are playing out in the public eye," she said in a statement. "I appreciate the support from so many in our community who have dealt with issues of domestic violence and ask that people respect my privacy and the privacy of my husband as we attempt to work through this very personal and painful situation."
City spokeswoman Marissa Bell denied reports that Berke had canceled all of his remaining public appearances this week, but also refused to provide a copy of Berke's schedule. She instead asked the Times Free Press to file a formal records request for the schedule, and that request had not been filled by Wednesday evening.
She also declined to discuss the city's process for investigating alleged misconduct and instead referred to the City of Chattanooga Employee Information Guide. The 194-page document lays out policies and procedures for city employees.
The document says that any personal, romantic or intimate relationships must be disclosed to employees' department heads. It also says one spouse cannot serve as the direct supervisor to another spouse, and one immediate family member cannot directly supervise another family member.
Staff writer Joy Smith contributed to this story.
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ShellyBradbury.