ELIZABETHTON — Carter County Planning Director Chris Schuettler filed a lawsuit against the county and Mayor Leon Humphrey on Friday. Schuettler accuses Humphrey of “malicious prosecution” in a 2011 arrest in which Schuettler was charged with theft over $1,000 for allegedly being in North Carolina when he was listed as on the pay clock in Carter County.
Schuettler said the arrest came after Humphrey accumulated Schuettler’s cell phone records, which showed numerous calls made from Wilkesboro, N.C., and Lenoir, N.C., during business hours. The charge was dismissed in Criminal Court.
In his suit, Schuettler said cell phone records are not reliable indicators to place a person in a city because the roaming feature of the phone will seek the strongest cell tower signal, even if it is in another state. Schuettler said his work often required him to make calls from Roan Mountain or Butler, which were transmitted by North Carolina cell towers and reflected as calls from North Carolina on the bills.
Schuettler said Humphrey presented the “misinformation” to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which led to his arrest. He said experts and Sprint officials explained that cities listed on cell phone bills were not the exact location of where the phone calls were made, leading to the charge being dropped.
Schuettler said Humphrey failed to follow proper procedures, as set forth in the county’s ethics rules. He said the rules require the suspicions to be brought to the chairman of the Planning Commission, who is Schuettler’s supervisor. If that did not satisfy the complaint, Schuettler said the case should have been brought to the Carter County Ethics Board.
If the matter had been brought through the proper channels, Schuettler said the misunderstanding about the cell phone bills would have been discovered and there would have been no charges placed. As a result of being charged, Schuettler said he lost income and a promotion in the Army Reserve, which not only affects his income but future retirement benefits.
Schuettler alleges that Humphrey had a “vendetta” against him and attempted to use his position as mayor to terminate Schuettler’s employment as director of planning and zoning.
Schuettler’s wife, Melanie Schuettler, is a co-plaintiff in the suit. The Schuettlers did not employ a lawyer in the lawsuit. They are seeking $600,000.