Steve Lawson, former captain of the Criminal Investigation Division at the Bradley County Sheriff's Office, has announced he will seek to unseat incumbent Sheriff Eric Watson in the May Republican primary.
The veteran lawman said in a statement he would be a "strong ethical and moral leader for our community" after three years of "embarrassing times regarding the personal and professional conduct of our current sheriff."
"My promise to the citizens of Bradley County is to dedicate myself totally to the duties of this office. I will not be involved in questionable side businesses, shady deals, the bonding business or any other conflicts of interest. This is a full-time job and, frankly, we deserve a full-time sheriff," Lawson said.
Watson has been under investigation for the better part of two years over allegations of financial misconduct, misuse of authority, questions about his use of county credit cards and more. The state comptroller's office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have not confirmed any wrongdoing, and a special prosecutor last week dismissed 12 felony counts charging Watson with using forged vehicle titles for cars he sold.
Lawson is the son of former sheriff Lamar Lawson and the nephew of another former Bradley sheriff, Robert Lawson. A Bradley County native, he has more than 23 years in law enforcement and has run twice before for the post.
He began as a dispatcher after graduating from Bradley Central High School in 1976 and worked his way up to patrolman, detective and detective supervisor at the sheriff's office before getting out of law enforcement in 1988 and going to work at Bowater Southern.
He returned to the sheriff's office in 2006 as criminal investigations captain, and was named in 2010 to head the 10th Judicial District Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, where he served until Watson's election in 2014.
Watson named Lawson head of criminal investigations, and during his tenure the department had the fourth-highest rate of solved burglaries in the state, he said, adding that "our success is not mine alone."
"It has been a true team effort involving the finest detectives I have ever had the honor to supervise, and the real credit for our success belongs to them," he said.
Lawson graduated from the Tennessee Law Enforcement Basic Training Academy in 1979 and the Cleveland State academy in 2007, and has taken specialized training in many areas of criminal investigation.
Lawson thanked his mother, wife and children for supporting his bid, and also thanked "my church family at Mount Olive Ministries for their continued support and prayers."
He also addressed his decision after the 2014 election to switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party, saying the GOP better matched the conservative values he learned growing up in Bradley County.
"Today I am proud to be an active member of the Bradley County Republican Party," Lawson said.
If elected, Lawson said, he will work with other local and state agencies and officials to protect the community and will implement checks and balances to ensure tax dollars are spent properly and efficiently.
"You can count on me to 'talk the talk' and 'walk the walk' as your next sheriff," he said.