A Bradley County, Tennessee, constable was indicted this month for official corruption and another is getting praise on social media for posting what he says is a joke about not snitching on large Thanksgiving family gatherings, something that government and health officials have strongly discouraged amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Tennessee, constables are elected officials who have the power to serve civil process — written notices in civil lawsuits — and in some counties they have full law enforcement powers just like a sworn police officer. State law narrowly defines in which counties constables have law enforcement powers based on population size. A county also may abolish its office of constable or remove constable law enforcement power if its legislative body votes to do so.
In Bradley County, a grand jury indicted Constable Timothy Ray Colbaugh on Nov. 18 on two counts of official misconduct. It's not clear what exactly Colbaugh is accused of, but the indictment states that he committed "an unauthorized exercise of official power" between May 29 and 30. He was arrested on Monday.
According to state law, official misconduct is considered a Class E felony or Class A misdemeanor, depending on the severity of the offense.
Colbaugh, 50, declined to comment Wednesday.
Also on Monday, another constable — Steve Anderson — took to Facebook to share a "joke."
"This Thanksgiving, if you see 20 cars at your neighbor's house, and you're thinking about reporting them, go to the fridge and drink a big glass of milk. Why? Milk is good for your teeth!" the post read.
"You know what else is good for your teeth? Minding your own business. #snitchesgetstitches," it continued.
Anderson was first appointed in 2013 to complete the unexpired term of his predecessor, Ira Cox, who died the year before.
"You're telling me that I copy and paste a Facebook joke, and I'm getting questioned about it?" Anderson told the Times Free Press on Wednesday.
"It's actually my personal Facebook page," he said.
Anderson represents himself on Facebook as a constable for Bradley County.
"I've never punched anybody. I'm not a violent person. My job is to enforce the law," he said.
"It wasn't meant to harm anything it was more of a joke to lighten holiday spirits," he added. "Everybody's so uptight with the COVID."
Anderson declined to answer questions about whether he encouraged large Thanksgiving gatherings.
"They have large gatherings every day in every county. We both know that," he said.
And he didn't respond as to whether he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic is a public safety issue, though he did say he knew at least one person who had been affected by the virus.
"Whatever anybody wants to do is their business there is no law that prohibits anybody from having Thanksgiving, at least that I'm aware of," he said.
While there is no law, and Tennessee has stopped short of issuing any statewide mandates, national, state and local officials in both Bradley and Hamilton counties have strongly encouraged mask wearing and discouraged large gatherings, asking people to celebrate only with immediate family.
The White House COVID-19 Task Force's report released this week noted significant behavior changes are necessary to protect families and communities this Thanksgiving and that Georgia and Tennessee do not have strong mitigation strategies.
The task force recommended that both states "ensure indoor masking around vulnerable family members during any gatherings due to the significant amount of virus circulating and the high rate of asymptomatic and undiagnosed infections among family and community members."
As for Anderson, he said he will not be having 20 cars in his driveway this Thanksgiving, as he doesn't have 20 cars in his family.
Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.
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