The political action committee opposing Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson's re-election has dropped a second video this week that it says shows Watson taking at least one felon out of the county jail and into the community.
The PAC, Christians for Accountable Leadership, said in a statement Friday the latest images show "another troubling example of Watson's disregard for public safety" and prove Watson has "lost control" of the jail.
Watson did not respond to a request either for comment or for referral to a campaign spokesperson Friday. At a news conference Thursday, he rebutted the PAC's first video detailing nine felons' visit to a Bradley County church.
The latest video's opening image shows a man in civilian clothes taking a selfie with a young woman. The background shows an open field and sheriff's office vehicles parked along a gravel road. Across the road, Watson is seen talking with some people near a SWAT vehicle, but no other law enforcement officers are in the frame.
The man, Juan Torres, was serving a six-year sentence for aggravated burglary after twice violating his parole. Court records show the violations included charges on aggravated burglary, domestic assault and being an armed felon.
The occasion is the July 4, 2017, fireworks show put on by Bradley County Commissioner Howard Thompson, where as many as 20,000 people were expected to gather. Watson is a sponsor of the annual event. Clips in the PAC video show him walking among and showing off the parked vehicles and having smiling conversations with people.
"Torres was somehow able to attend Sheriff Watson's fireworks show dressed in civilian clothing," the video states. "Free to himself, Torres was allowed to entertain a female guest and was provided access to social media to document what was happening. Even capturing a picture of himself, with Watson in the background."
The PAC video calls the images "another unfortunate example of Sheriff Watson's blatant disregard for public safety" and says it is "abundantly clear that Sheriff Watson is no longer the one running the Bradley County Jail and has lost control."
Torres is one of nine state felons Watson took to a Charleston, Tenn., church service in May 2017, according to Christians for Accountable Leadership's first video, released Wednesday. The video included photos Watson posted on Facebook showing the men, in civilian clothes and unshackled, mingling with the congregation, with no sign of guards.
Watson called a news conference Thursday to rebut the first video. He said Christians for Accountable Leadership "reached the pinnacle of dirty politics when they put themselves under the banner of 'Christian' while either not telling the whole truth or just spreading lies."
He said church trips for inmates are fairly common, part of the sheriff's office's "faith-based programs" to help inmates' lives "change for the good." He also said trusted inmates work outside the jail "almost every day" and said they are "guarded everywhere they go."
Watson charged that the PAC's president, Nadene Haines, and her husband had contributed the maximum amount allowed to Watson's campaign opponent, former Criminal Investigations Division Capt. Steve Lawson.
PAC spokesman Joshua Standifer said Haines had supported Watson when he ran in 2014, but suffered "buyers' remorse" and don't support his re-election. He said the Haineses' donations were made in December, but the PAC wasn't founded until February.
The Times Free Press has asked 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump whether Watson's use of the sheriff's office for his news conference violates campaign finance or ethics laws. State law says public money and property may not be used to further political campaigns.
The Times Free Press also asked the sheriff's office Friday if any of the inmates who went on the May church trip were signed out of the jail on July 4, 2017, but received no response.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.