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Judges step back from Unicoi County deputy case

June 28th, 2013 9:50 pm by Brad Hicks

Judges step back from Unicoi County deputy case

ERWIN — Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street has recused himself from hearing the case of former Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Ricky Butler and has instead ordered that the case be heard by Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood. 

Butler appeared in Unicoi County Criminal Court on Friday for an arraignment hearing. On June 10, a grand jury indicted Butler on two counts of filing a false report and one count each of reckless driving and failure to exercise due care. 

Street said because of Butler’s prior work with the sheriff’s department, the court’s familiarity with his work, and Street having previously called Butler to testify in cases he had tried, he would recuse himself from the case. Street also said he had spoken to fellow Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp, who would also be recusing himself from the case due to his familiarity with Butler. 

The district attorney general’s office for the 1st Judicial District had already recused itself from prosecuting the case. Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus has been appointed to prosecute the matter.

Street moved that Blackwood, who is overseeing the Criminal Court proceedings of former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris, whose next trial is set to begin on July 8, oversee the proceedings involving Butler. Butler will appear before Blackwood in Criminal Court on July 10 at 10 a.m., at which time Blackwood will set a future hearing date.

Street also set a recall hearing for Aug. 30 on his Criminal Court docket to ensure the case is addressed and does not “fall through the cracks.” He said both he and Cupp would need to file motions with the Administrative Office of the Courts requesting their recusals. 

According to the presentment document previously filed in Criminal Court, Butler’s alleged offenses occurred on or about Jan. 16. It states Butler committed the false report offenses by initiating a report or statement to a law enforcement officer “concerning an offense or incident within the officer’s concern knowing the offense or incident did not occur.”

The presentment document also states Butler committed the offense of reckless driving by operating a vehicle “upon a public road with the willful and wanton disregard for the safety of other persons and/or property.” It stated Butler failed to exercise due care because he failed to “avoid colliding with any other motor vehicle, either being driven or legally parked, upon the roadway, or any road sign, guard rail or any fixed object legally placed within or beside the roadway right of way.”

The document provided no further details on what led to Butler’s charges. Staubus previously said that he could not discuss details of the case at this time. He said once Butler has acquired the services of an attorney, his office would file discovery items pertaining to the case.

“It was initiated when Mr. Butler made a call to the (Tennessee Highway Patrol) about damage to his vehicle and, as a result of that, an investigation ensued and these charges were the result of that investigation by the Tennessee Highway Patrol,” Staubus said previously.

Attorney Jim Bowman has been retained to represent Butler. No discovery items were filed in Criminal Court on Friday.

Like Staubus, the THP previously stated no details on the alleged charges can be released at this time.

“Due to the ongoing nature of this case, we are unable to comment specifically about the investigation at this time,” an email sent earlier this month by THP spokeswoman Dalya Qualls stated. 

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley previously said Butler resigned from the sheriff’s department in January to avoid disciplinary action. Hensley said Butler’s resignation and the resignation of another officer submitted at the time were the result of internal investigations revealing “misconduct and inefficiency on the behalf of the officers.”

Hensley previously said Butler, a 13-year veteran of the department, was given the opportunity to resign or face a termination hearing on Jan. 17. Sheriff’s department officials said the cause of the investigation involving Butler was violations of the department’s operating procedure and misconduct, and that a report of the investigation’s findings were turned over to the district attorney general’s office. 

Butler is also a former Unicoi County commissioner and has served on the Unicoi County Board of Education since 2010. Board Chair Renea Jones-Rogers said Friday that she is unaware of any change in Butler’s status on the board. She previously said she was advised by the Tennessee School Board Association that if Butler is convicted, the attorney general would determine Butler’s status on the board since he is an elected official. 

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