Tony Clark and Kent Harris
During his time as a prosecutor, District Attorney General Tony Clark said he has been the victim of vandalism, from having his car tires flattened to having paint thinner dumped on one of his vehicles.
But Clark recently said the frequency and ferocity of such acts of vandalism ramped up during the the investigation that led to the charges that were placed against ex-Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris and trials of the county’s former top lawman.
Clark said the case against Harris garnered more attention and feedback than any other case with which he has been involved. This included mail through residents who voiced either their opposition or support of Clark’s prosecution of the former sheriff. But Clark said he also received anonymous threats during the prosecution process.
Clark said the window of one of his vehicles was also shot out, and shots were fired at his Unicoi County home. He said these incidents occurred at night or while he was away. Clark said the incident involving his vehicle wasreported to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, and Clark reported the shots fired at his home to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He also turned over the threatening letters to the TBI, which Clark said will not release them since it is part of the agency’s file on the case.
While he said such incidents were not “everyday occurrences,” Clark said the incidents occurred mainly after Harris was charged with 10 felonies in October 2011 and during the former sheriff’s last trial this past July.
“There were several people that took this personally, and there were several people that were unhappy with my decisions... but I’ve got a job to do, and I feel like I done my job,” Clark said. “Of course, there were things that happened that I wish had not happened during the trial, to his family and mine both, and ourselves.”
Clark said he does not believe Harris or his family were responsible for the incidents.
“I hold no grudges, I’m not accusing anybody of anything,” he said.
Harris said he was also the victim of threatening activities during the court proceedings. He said it started with threats made against him and his family on the Internet and escalated on Feb. 17, 2012, when he found that the windshield of his wife’s vehicle had been shot out. Harris said the vehicle was also scratched, and this incident would be the first of three he would report to the Erwin Police Department.
The next incident occurred on Feb. 29, 2012, when the vehicle driven by Harris’ nurse assigned to him following his August 2010 fall from the roof of the Unicoi County Jail was also found to have its window shot out while parked at a Unicoi County hotel.
Aside from these incidents, Harris said items such as nails and bottles were found in the driveways of his home, his mother’s home and his grandmother’s home. Harris said the police department increased its patrols around his Unicoi County home.
The third incident reported to the Erwin Police Department occurred in February, Harris said. He said a shot had been fired at a family owned deli on Carolina Avenue in Erwin, and that a .22-caliber bullet fragment was found at the scene. Harris said he shared who he believes carried out the acts with Erwin Police officials, but no one has been charged.
“I feel like I know who done it, and we reported it, but it’s a matter of you can’t just charge somebody on statements,” Harris said. “You’ve got to have proof, but I shared all that with (Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson).”
Harris said there have been no incidents since the one at the deli.
In August, Clark announced that he would not pursue future prosecution against Harris, which followed Harris’ third trial in July in which Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood granted a motion for acquittal made by Harris’ defense attorney. Harris said he was unaware that Clark had also been the victim of threats and vandalism until after the charges had been dismissed.
Both Clark and Harris agree that whoever is responsible for the acts of vandalism and threats was carrying out the acts to stir animosity between the two sides.
“My gut tells me that the same person that was doing mine was doing his, just trying to create more hatred, maybe, him toward me and me toward whoever,” Harris said. “It takes cowardly people to do stuff like this, but that’s the only thing I could think of, that they were doing this to keep trouble stirred up.”