Former Unicoi sheriff, uncle file libel suits against spokesman of Unicoi County watchdog group

Brad Hicks • Jun 26, 2012 at 10:59 AM

ERWIN — Former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris and his uncle have filed separate complaints against John Day, spokesman for a local watchdog group, the Unicoi County Citizens for Good Governance, accusing Day of making libelous remarks on a website he maintains.

In the complaints, which were filed Friday in Unicoi County Civil Sessions Court, Harris and his uncle, Kenny Woods, are each seeking damages of $1 plus court costs. Harris said Monday that he and Woods are not seeking money from Day, but instead seeking an end to what the two perceive as mistruths being spread by Day.

“I’m not after anything except for these lies to stop because it’s went on for way over a year now,” Harris said on Monday.

Attached to each of the complaints is a copy of a post from Day’s website, Unicoi County Tennessee Watchdog, published on June 19. Harris said the complaints filed pertain specifically to comments made on Day’s website. In that post, Day describes a recent meeting he had with former Carter County sheriff John Henson in regard to Harris and Woods questioning of interim Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley’s work experience in letters to the editor published last week in The Erwin Record. The website post states Henson told Day that Hensley did work for the Carter County Sheriff’s Department parttime from 1998 to 2000, a claim that has been disputed by Harris.

“I had the opportunity to discuss with John today’s letters to the Erwin Record editor from former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris, who is currently under indictment on 11 felony charges and is receiving disability for a purported brain injury, and his uncle Kenny Woods, who is by no means among the sharper knives in the rack and by all current IQ standards is surely missing some critical marbles in his brain bag, regarding their accusations that current Unicoi County sheriff, Mike Hensley, lied about working for John in 1998-2000 while John was the Carter County sheriff,” the website post states.

The post goes on to state: “I’m sure that everyone wonders, as I do, who really wrote those two letters today to the Erwin Record, considering the brain damage that both Harris and Woods have. Even on their best day and without their brain damage neither could possibly articulate the English language so clearly and spell words containing more than one syllable and 3 letters. Whoever wrote them surely did make (expletive) of themselves along with Harris and Woods and should hang their heads in shame for stooping so low in their pig sties to write such lies about fine and able men such as Mike Hensley and John Henson.”

Attached to Harris and Woods’ complaints are letters written by each. In his letter, Harris states the he feels the intent of Day’s website post “constitutes a deliberate and malicious act of libel” and that statements made by Day are “hurtful and harmful” to his reputation and well-being. Woods also wrote that he feels the intent of Day’s post was to “maliciously” and “dileberately” damage his reputation. Aside from damages of $1 plus court costs, Harris wrote in his letter that he is also seeking “for John Day to stop any and all continued libel acts.”

“I’ve been under continuous, malicious attack, just saying very hurtful things against me and my family, and I’ve tried to handle it different ways,” Harris said Monday. “John Day, you just can’t talk to the man. I think it’s the only way now, after I’ve tried what I consider the Christian way to handle it, I think the way to handle it that’s left is to go to court and let him prove these nasty things he said.”

Harris also said he spoke with Henson recently, and that Henson told him that he had never met Day before having his picture taken for his watchdog website.

“(Day) tries to portray it like they were good friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while. John (Henson) is very upset about it, too. He told me he was going to file as well against him,” Harris said.

Day said Monday that he did not wish to comment on the complaints filed against him at this time.

“I think it’s so ridiculous it doesn’t even deserve a response,” Day said. “It’s ludicrous.”

Hensley, Henson and former Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department chief investigator Ken Potter have been subpoenaed in the case. A court date of July 24 has been set in Civil Sessions Court for both complaints, with Harris’ complaint to be taken up at 1 p.m. and Woods’ at 1:30 p.m.

Hensley said Monday afternoon that he had not yet been served with the subpoena and was unaware of the matter. He declined comment at this time.

While Harris’ and Woods’ complaints pertain solely to the post on Day’s website, they have also been the subject of posts on the discussion board website Topix. Harris said he is working with an attorney to look into possible action against those who have made what he considers disparaging comments on Topix.

“My hope is that people just quit spreading these things,” Harris said.

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