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Former Unicoi sheriff Harris’ attorney says client subject to 'selective prosecution'

May 22nd, 2013 11:53 am by Brad Hicks

Former Unicoi sheriff Harris’ attorney says client subject to 'selective prosecution'

Former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris and attorney Jim Bowman listen as District Attorney General Tony Clark conveys his wishes to retry Harris on the theft charge he was on trial for in this August 2012 file photo.

ERWIN — Former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris’ attorney Jim Bowman has filed a pair of motions seeking the dismissal of the official misconduct charge that Harris is set to be tried on in July.

The motions were filed Monday afternoon in Unicoi County Criminal Court. In one of the motions, Bowman said Harris is being subjected to “selective prosecution,” as another county official acted in a fashion similar to what netted Harris the official misconduct charge just months later. 

It is alleged that in November 2011, then-sheriff Harris directed an employee of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department to use departmental supplies and equipment to prepare a letter soliciting funds to pay his defense attorneys’ fees during the employee’s working hours. A Unicoi County grand jury indicted Harris on this charge in February 2012.

Prior to this charge, a grand jury had indicted Harris on 10 felonies in October 2011, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of theft over $1,000, criminal simulation, attempted aggravated assault and tampering with evidence. Read more on those charges here.

Bowman’s motion said that on June 19, current Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, who was appointed to the office after Harris’ March 2012 resignation and was elected to the office in August, directed an employee or employees of the sheriff’s department to assist in the preparing and typing of an affidavit from former Carter County Sheriff John Henson. The motion said Henson’s statement was used in a political campaign advertisement on Hensley’s behalf. The document also said that in doing this, Hensley may have violated several federal and state statutes.

“Mike Hensley has not been prosecuted for his conduct, notwithstanding that he occupied the same public position as the defendant and engaged in the same conduct, to-wit: directing a county employee to prepare a document for his personal benefit,” the motion said. “If, therefore, the conduct of this defendant constitutes a violation of the law, the conduct of Mike Hensley is likewise a violation of the same statute and the magnitude of Hensley’s violation is not materially different from that of the defendant.”

Hensley said Tuesday that he feels it would be inappropriate to comment on the motion filed by Bowman at this time.

“I think (District Attorney General Tony) Clark will address this at the right time,” Hensley said. 

In the second motion seeking dismissal of the official misconduct charge, Bowman said the grand jury presentment fails to charge an offense. 

Citing the Tennessee Criminal Practice and Procedure, Bowman that the presentment document is “vague” with regards to Harris’ official misconduct charge and that it fails to state an offense. 

“The presentment alleges that the defendant used ‘an employee of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department,’ and ‘equipment and supplies of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department,’ ” the motion said. “The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department is not a legal entity, but, rather, a department of Unicoi County and therefore cannot employ an individual or own property.”

The trial on the misconduct charge is set to begin July 8 and will mark the third time Harris has been tried in Criminal Court. Harris’ first trial on charges of criminal simulation and theft over $1,000 ended in August with a hung jury as jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict. Harris was retried on the theft charge, which also ended with a hung jury in December when jurors again failed to reach a unanimous verdict. Read more on those trials here.

A motions hearing for the July trial will take place June 10.

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