ERWIN — Two officers with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department recently resigned to avoid disciplinary action, and one of the officers may be facing criminal charges, according to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley.
Hensley stated in a news release issued Friday by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department that the resignations of Deputy Randall Killen and Capt. Rick Butler were the result of two separate internal investigations revealing “misconduct and inefficiency on the behalf of the officers.”
The release states both officers resigned after being made aware of the investigations’ findings, placed on administrative leave, and each being informed that a termination hearing would be held.
“It’s hard to lose two seasoned officers to sum it up, but it was to the point I absolutely, no question, had to act,” Hensley said Friday.
Killen, a 10-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, was given the option to resign or face a termination hearing on Jan. 17, according to Hensley. Hensley said the internal investigation involving Killen included multiple documented events involving violations of the department’s operating procedures and inefficiency with respect to job duties.
“He’s been warned time after time, he’s been reprimanded time after time, been talked to time after time about different things,” Hensley said. “Of course, this involves an internal investigation on that part, but it had come to the point where I couldn’t tolerate it any more.”
Like Killen, Butler, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, was given the option to resign or face a termination hearing on Jan. 17. The release states the cause of the investigation involving Butler was violations of the department’s operating procedure and misconduct. According to the release, Butler could possibly face criminal charges as a result of this investigation.
“A report of the department’s findings with respect to Captain Butler’s investigation has been turned over to the District Attorney General Tony Clark who will decide if the state will pursue charges for possible criminal charges,” the release states.
Because of the ongoing criminal investigation, Hensley declined to elaborate on the possible charges against Butler, other than to say that the criminal investigation into the charges is being handled by the District Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol and that the investigation is related to an incident that occurred since Hensley was appointed sheriff in March. Hensley also said he had grounds to terminate Butler, but Butler chose to resign.
“It is the mission of my office to restore integrity and trust in the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office,” Hensley stated in the release issued Friday. “All of my deputies were given a clean slate on March 27, 2012, whenever I was appointed sheriff. I handed down specific guidelines and procedures addressing the conduct of my deputies. The recent series of events leading to this unfortunate event have happened since that time. Additionally, if I cannot trust the integrity and truthfulness of my officers, how can I expect the public to? Let it be known that this department’s integrity will be my mission to restore, this will be accomplished by first being accountable myself, and then holding my employees accountable for their actions.”
Dalya Qualls, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Safety, confirmed that there is an investigation involving Butler being conducted by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and Tennessee Highway Patrol. However, Qualls directed further questions to the District Attorney General’s office.
Clark could not be reached Friday for comment.
Butler is a former Unicoi County Commissioner and currently serves on the county’s Board of Education. He was elected to serve on the school board in August 2010. Unicoi County Director of Schools Denise Brown could not be reached Friday to discuss what impact the possible charges may have on Butler’s service on the board.
Butler declined comment on the matter at this time when contacted Friday.
Hensley reiterated that it is difficult to lose the officers, but he said he will continue to maintain transparency with regard to the sheriff’s department.
“The thing I want to put out is this — there was a lot of stuff going on under another administration that we’re not going to tolerate,” Hensley said. “We’re going to be up front with everything. If it’s wrong, I don’t care who it is. If it’s an officer doing wrong, we will deal with it, and that’s what we’ve done.”