ERWIN — Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris reported to the Unicoi County Jail Thursday afternoon for booking and processing.
Following Harris’ indictment on 10 felony charges by a Unicoi County grand jury last Friday, the sheriff was issued a criminal summons in lieu of arrest. Harris then had 10 days to report to the jail for booking and processing purposes.
This procedure is essentially a record-keeping process that entails obtaining a photograph of the individual who has reported for booking and fingerprints of the person, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Jason Locke. The fingerprints themselves are what makes up a person’s criminal record, Locke said.
“Each time a person is arrested, they are fingerprinted and, obviously, those fingerprints are specific to that individual,” Locke said. “That’s how we identify that individual and verify that they are who they say they are.”
Locke said the information contained during the booking process is not only entered into the TBI’s database in Nashville, but also is forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center database.
Harris was released from the jail less than hour after his booking and was not required to post bond.
The charges against Harris include six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, criminal simulation, theft over $1,000 and attempted aggravated assault.
According to a presentment document released Monday, the official misconduct charges stem from incidents occurring on several dates in June and July of 2010 when Harris allegedly had Unicoi County inmates perform labor on property then owned by him located at 604 N. Mohawk Drive.
The presentment states that on or about Sept. 6, 2008, Harris committed the offense of tampering with evidence, with the TBI release stating Harris had altered or destroyed evidence that was part of an investigation at that time. The presentment document said this evidence involved moonshine.
On Sept. 7, 2008, investigators with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department stopped a truck driven by a North Carolina man and seized more than 70 gallons of moonshine that he had purchased in Unicoi County. Days later, officials in Madison County, N.C., discovered a moonshine still after acting on information provided by Harris following an informant’s tip.
The presentment states the attempted aggravated assault charge was the result of Harris’ confrontation with Unicoi County resident J.D. Hensley following a July meeting of the Unicoi County Commission’s Finance Committee. According to a TBI release, Harris was charged after attempting to assault Hensley with a deadly weapon. The presentment said this weapon was a cane carried by Harris.
Harris committed the criminal simulation offense in September 2008 by making or altering a memorandum requesting payment from the county for vehicles valued at $4,500 that were actually donated, the presentment states. The theft over $1,000 also occurred at that time when Harris received $4,500 belonging to the county, according to the presentment.
District Attorney General Tony Clark said last Friday that the charges against the sheriff stem from two TBI investigation, one initiated in 2009 and the other in 2010, that overlapped and were later combined. According to the TBI, the agency began the investigation of misconduct against Harris in September 2010 after being requested by Clark’s office.
Clark said the TBI presented the case to the grand jury.
UCSD Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins said Harris is still undergoing treatment for injuries he suffered after falling from the roof of the jail in August 2010. Because of this, Thursday was the “most convenient time” for Harris to complete the booking and processing procedure, Adkins said.
Harris could not be reached Thursday for comment. He is scheduled to appear in Unicoi County Criminal Court on Nov. 22. Harris also is slated to be the subject of a closed client/attorney meeting between Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults and county commissioners.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch previously said this informational meeting is to discuss options and possibilities in the matter involving Harris, with one of these possibilities being the ouster of Harris.
“This by no means is an indication that there will be an ouster, but this will give people the knowledge going forward as to what could possibly happen,” Lynch said previously.
Lynch said Thursday evening that Harris’ compliance with the stipulation that he report for booking and processing comes as no surprise.
“I wouldn’t expect him to do anything other than what the court had ordered at this point,” Lynch said.