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Former Unicoi County Sheriff Harris' hearing postponed until April

Brad Hicks • Mar 21, 2012 at 8:40 AM

ERWIN — The initial court appearance of former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris on his latest official misconduct charge, which was originally set for March 27, has been reset.

The hearing will now take place on April 18 at 9 a.m. in Unicoi County Criminal Court. District Attorney General Tony Clark said Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp originally set the hearing for the March 27 date. However, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who is presiding over Harris’ case, has notified the court he will not be available for the arraignment hearing on that date.

On Feb. 16, a Unicoi County grand jury returned one true bill charging Harris with official misconduct for allegedly having a sheriff’s department employee use departmental supplies and equipment to prepare a letter soliciting funds to pay his attorney’s fees in November during the employee’s working hours.

This came after an October meeting of the grand jury, when it 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, criminal simulation and theft over $1,000.

Harris appeared in Unicoi County Criminal Court on Feb. 7 and entered a plea of not guilty to the charges from the grand jury’s October session. He is scheduled to begin trial on the theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation charges on July 30.

Citing health reasons, as he was injured in an August 2010 fall from the roof the Unicoi County Jail, Harris submitted his letter of resignation to the county on March 1. In a special-called session on March 9, the Unicoi County Commission unanimously accepted Harris’ resignation, at which point the sheriff’s position became vacant.

County officials are now in the process of appointing someone to serve as the county’s sheriff until the August general election.

So far, four candidates have submitted paperwork to Mayor Greg Lynch’s office seeking the County Commission’s appointment to serve as interim sheriff until August election.

On Monday, Mike Hensley, a sheriff’s department employee, became the latest applicant for the job as he notified Lynch’s office of his intent to seek the appointment. Hensley has around 25 years of experience in several local law enforcement agencies, with the majority of his experience coming at the UCSD.

Hensley is a criminal investigator within the department, and previously held the titles of chief deputy and captain. He has previous experience as a county constable and emergency dispatcher. Hensley also previously worked for the Erwin Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and the Carter County Sheriff’s Department.

Hensley is a graduate of the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy and has received some law enforcement education from Walters State Community College.

Last week, sheriff’s department employee Ron Arnold, probation officer James Lengel and Nuclear Fuel Services tactical police officer Michael Dawson submitted resumes to Lynch’s office to seek the appointment.

The commission will meet Monday with the intent of appointing a sheriff to fill in until the August general election. The commission is set to publicly interview qualified candidates, and the candidate receiving a majority vote from the nine-member body will serve until Sept. 1.

The deadline for candidates seeking the commission’s appointment to submit paperwork to Lynch’s office is set for the end of the business day on Thursday.

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