Grand jury hears evidence against Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson

Grand jury hears evidence against Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson

July 19th, 2017 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

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Evidence in the year-long investigation of Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson was presented to a grand jury Wednesday, the spokesman for the sheriff's office said.

In an emailed statement, Lt. James Bradford said: "Per the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office, the Pro Tem District Attorney assigned to the case made a presentation to the Grand Jury, but the findings have not been reported back to the court."

Watson, who is out of town, did not respond to a text requesting comment Wednesday. Previously, he has denied any wrongdoing.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began its probe in June 2016 at the request of Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls, who alleged multiple instances of wrongdoing. Those included Watson using his authority to help get a woman with whom he had a personal relationship out of jail, potential misuse of county credit cards and other allegations.

The Times Free Press has written multiple stories detailing Watson's activities, including a series in December outlining how he bought numerous used police vehicles on a government auction site and sold them without a license. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance investigated his car sales and warned him against future unlicensed sales.

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The pro tem, or specially appointed, district attorney is Jimmy Dunn, of the 4th Judicial District in Sevierville. Steve Crump, 10th Judicial District Attorney, recused himself because he had a conflict of interest: He said Watson had once contributed money to his campaign for DA.

TBI spokeswoman Susan Niland said Wednesday night the agency cannot confirm any of its agents testified to the Bradley County grand jury in the case. No one would confirm whether the grand jury returned any criminal charges against Watson.

Sources with direct knowledge of the situation said any charges would have to be signed off on by a judge before being made public. Those sources said local judges have recused themselves, which is usual when dealing with a local elected official they have worked with, and that a special judge would need to be named to handle paperwork if the grand jury does lodge any charges.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.

Updated at 9:41 p.m. after a TBI spokeswoman contacted the Times Free Press.