Unicoi County sheriff seeks retirement info

Brad Hicks • Feb 15, 2012 at 8:01 AM

ERWIN — Although Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said his office has received inquiries from state agencies for retirement information for Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris, the sheriff has not officially indicated any intent to retire with the county.

Lynch said the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System and the Tennessee Department of Labor requested retirement information for Harris around 10 weeks ago. Lynch said there have also been subsequent contacts from these agencies.

Despite this, Lynch said there has been no official word to the county from Harris indicating the sheriff plans to retire.

It is not uncommon for county employees to make inquiries regarding retirement to see what they may draw, Lynch said. He also said that making such inquiries does not lock an employee into retirement.

“They can prepare to do retirement and then decide not to,” he said.

On Oct. 14, a Unicoi County grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, attempted aggravated assault, theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation.

Harris made his initial appearance in Unicoi County Criminal Court last Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. Motions previously filed by Harris’ legal counsel seeking the dismissal of the charges against their client were dismissed by Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, but the judge granted the defense’s request to sever the offenses. Harris is set to be tried on the theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation charges on July 30.

The sheriff also continues to receive treatment for injuries suffered in an August 2010 fall from the roof of the Unicoi County Jail.

Following Harris’ fall, the sheriff began receiving weekly checks for $841.50 from workers’ compensation. In all, Harris received 21 checks totaling $17,671.50. He received his last check in January 2011. Lynch said the county’s workers’ compensation carrier stopped sending these checks when County Attorney Doug Shults notified the carrier that Harris should not be receiving the payments due to being an elected official.

Lynch also said Harris immediately returned each of these checks to the county as soon as he received them.

“The sheriff had been turning that over from day one,” Lynch said.

The money from those checks has been placed in a reserve account, and the county is still awaiting word on what to do with it, Lynch said.

In a text message sent Tuesday afternoon, Harris wrote that he is still under “100 percent” medical care at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, where he was undergoing tests Tuesday. Harris deferred further comment on the matter of his retirement on Tuesday, but wrote that his labor attorney, Bruce Shine of Kingsport, is likely to make a statement today.

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