Former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris and his mother, Kathy Harris, say they have filed complaints with the state Board of Professional Responsibility, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s office, the Attorney General’s office and Gov. Bill Haslam’s office alleging inappropriate and “threatening” actions by District Attorney General Tony Clark.
In a complaint sent to Blackwood’s office and the Board of Professional Responsbility dated Feb. 1, Kathy Harris wrote that during a Dec. 12 morning recess during Kent Harris’ retrial in Unicoi County Criminal Court on a charge of theft over $1,000, while the jury and Blackwood were out of the courtroom, that Clark became “visibly upset” at Kent Harris’ defense attorney, Jim Bowman, and then looked at Kent Harris and told him to “go to hell.”
She further wrote that her son responded by asking Clark if the comment was directed at him, which was followed by Clark leaving his seat at the prosecutor’s table “like he was going after” Kent Harris. After Kent Harris’ wife and bailiffs came between her husband and Clark, Clark “stormed out” of the courtroom, Kathy Harris wrote. Kathy Harris also alleges that Clark carries a firearm with him to the courtroom, and she feared for her own safety, her son’s safety and the safety of others in the courtroom.
“I observed this incident, and I felt threatened by these actions,” she wrote.
The former sheriff also described this alleged incident in a complaint dated Feb. 3 and sent to the Attorney General, Board of Professional Responsibility and the governor’s office. In it, he called Clark’s alleged actions “threatening” and “intimidating.”
“I just knew he was going to attack me,” Harris wrote in his complaint. “The audience members who had heard and seen him do this begun to shout and scream at him to stop and my wife who was behind me hurriedly came around and got in between me and him.”
Kent Harris also wrote that Clark acted in this manner because he was aware of Harris’ medical condition and knew Harris would take the stand in his own defense. Harris also wrote he to pursue charges against Clark but does not believe a law enforcement agency would charge the district attorney general.
“I guess I just feel like some other people need to look over what all has transpired,” Kent Harris said Wednesday.
He also wrote in his complaint that Clark lied about the costs of the trials to the media and allowed jurors called by the state to commit perjury.
“Clark had decided to do whatever to make sure I was found guilty,” the complaint said.
In their complaints, both Kent and Kathy Harris also allege inappropriate actions on the part of the TBI. Kathy Harris wrote that after her son’s first trial on the theft charge ended with a hung jury, agents with the TBI went to the home of one of the jurors and accused him of accepting a bribe from the Harris family for a favorable vote.
“You know jury duty in my opinion is the most important civic duty outside of voting that we have and to falsely accuse not only the juror but also our family of this is just continued harassment from the TBI and Tony Clark,” her complaint states.
Both Kathy and Kent Harris further accuse the TBI of wrongdoing in a complaint sent to the agency’s director. In it, they accuse a TBI agent of text messaging a future state witness in Harris’ trials on Oct. 14, 2011, the day Harris was indicted on 10 felony charges by a Unicoi County grand jury, to keep her up to speed on the proceedings.
They also alleged TBI agents previously went to property owned by Kent Harris while former sheriff’s department handyman Cozy Silvers was working on the property. They allege this was done without consent or a search warrant.
They further allege TBI agents recently went to the home of former Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department captain Rick Butler. According to current Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, Butler resigned from the department last month to avoid disciplinary action and may be facing criminal charges.
It is alleged by Harris and his mother that agents went to Butler’s home, offering to help him with his possible charges in exchange for information on Harris.
“Butler felt intimidated and threatened that if he couldn’t tell them something against Kent Harris he would be charged,” the complaint said.
Harris said he was never questioned by the TBI during its investigation of him. He also said his criminal defense attorneys did not advise him to file the complaints, adding that he is filing this for concerns of his safety at future trials.
“I just think that there are some things that need to be looked at,” he said Wednesday.
When contacted after the agency’s normal business hours Wednesday, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said in an emailed response that she was unaware of the TBI director receiving such a complaint and that the matter would be looked into this morning.
The state’s Board of Professional Responsibility oversees the conduct of attorneys across the state. Whenever a complaint is lodged with the agency, it will address each one, and the accused attorneys must respond to all non-frivolous complaints. The board then determines how to further address the matter.
Clark said Wednesday evening that he has not received notification from any of the agencies that had complaints sent to them. He also denied the allegations against him.
“Ethically, I’m not going to air out whatever problems (Kent Harris) has with me in the press,” Clark said.