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Staff file photo / The McMinn County Justice Center is in Athens, Tenn.

A 24-year veteran detective in McMinn County, Tennessee, was suspended for three days without pay after taking an alleged teenage rape victim out of town in a county car to get an abortion.

Sheriff Joe Guy called the trip an "error in procedure" and said longtime sheriff's Detective Greg Earps had the permission of the 17-year-old's parents to take her to Knoxville for the procedure in his effort to get DNA evidence for the case.

But the way it happened violates departmental policies, said Guy, who learned of the trip the next day.

According to a statement issued Friday by Guy, Earps was investigating the alleged rape case in March in which evidence indicated the incident resulted in pregnancy.

During the course of the investigation, the teen told her parents and Earps she wanted an abortion and with the consent of the juvenile's parents, "Earps offered to provide transportation to the [medical] procedure with the intent of collecting DNA evidence that could possibly be used to prosecute the offender," according to the statement.

The trip was made on March 25. The procedure took place, and the evidence was collected.

"Unfortunately, Detective Earps made an error in judgment and policy," Guy said in the statement. "According to our policy, an officer should clear a transport of a juvenile through a supervisor, which Detective Earps failed to do, even though he had the parents' permission. Second, en route to the procedure, the victim disclosed that the crime had occurred in the city of Athens and could have been referred to the Athens Police Department, but since a search warrant had already been obtained, Earps continued with the evidence collection. Third, I am morally opposed to abortion, and those convictions would not allow me to be party in any way to such a procedure."

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Staff file photo / McMinn County Sheriff's Office detective Greg Earps is shown in this 2012 photo collecting information on seized guns for an auction.

Guy said Tuesday that Earps "should have consulted with a supervisor before agreeing to the transport."

"We have jurisdiction, but I would have preferred he turn it over," Guy said Tuesday of the sheriff's office's authority.

Otherwise, Earps crossed no criminal lines, Guy said, but his error was addressed March 29, records show.

Earps was suspended for three days without pay, ordered to undergo review training on ethics and sex abuse case management and, upon his request, was transferred to property crimes investigations, according to a disciplinary counseling/reprimand form obtained by the Times Free Press and signed by Earps on March 29.

The policy violations were identified as failure to refer a case to proper jurisdiction, failure to notify the sheriff or chief deputy of a victim requesting a medical procedure, failure to log transport of a juvenile and failure to properly document evidence transfer.

"I will review training of ethics, case management and will make better decisions in the future," Earps said in a handwritten statement required on the disciplinary form. The detective was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Under corrective actions required, Earps "will evaluate 'tunnel vision' respecting his desire to obtain evidence and prosecute a case weighed against providing for the needs of a victim," the form states.

No charges have been filed in connection with the rape allegations as that investigation continues under other personnel.

According to the sheriff, Earps has an "exemplary work record" and has never been the subject of any other disciplinary actions in his 24-year career at the department.

"Unfortunately in Tennessee, as in much of the country, the juvenile's age allows for such a procedure to take place with or without consent of the parent," Guy said in the statement. "It is considered a legal medical procedure. I felt that even though his intent was to collect evidence in the case, Det. Earps had violated policy and had made a serious error in judgment in being involved in any way with the procedure when other avenues and resources were available."

Guy said he reviewed elements of the incident with 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump.

"Our office does not believe that the incident rises to the level of criminal conduct," Crump said Tuesday via email, noting he was notified of the trip as soon as Guy learned of it. "None of Detective Earps' actions were criminal in nature. While the actions exhibited a lack of judgment, there was no wrongful intent by the detective. The detective was attempting to obtain evidence in an ongoing investigation and took the actions with the full knowledge and consent of the parents.

"These factors were key to our determination," Crump said, noting he believes no further investigation is warranted unless additional facts come to light.

"While transport of crime victims by law enforcement does occur occasionally, I am unaware of a similar situation to this one," Crump said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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