Johnson City Press Monday, July 28, 2014
Opinion

Should Harris be removed from office before trial?

October 24th, 2011 6:35 am by Staff Report

A grand jury has indicted Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris on 10 felony charges. Those charges include six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, criminal simulation, theft over $1,000 and attempted aggravated assault.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a statement Oct. 14 that noted six counts of official misconduct were the result of incidences occurring on several dates in June and July of 2010 when prosecutors say Harris had Unicoi County inmates perform labor on property owned by him.

As Press Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks reported last week, a presentment document says that on or about Sept. 6, 2008, Harris committed the offense of tampering with evidence, with the TBI release stating that Harris altered or destroyed evidence that was part of the investigation at that time. The presentment said this evidence involved moonshine.

According to the grand jury’s presentment, Harris committed the offense of criminal simulation 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 theft over $1,000 also occurred in September 2008 when Harris received $4,500 belonging to the county, according to the presentment.

The presentment states that Harris’ charge of attempted aggravated assault was the result of his confrontation with Unicoi County resident J.D. Hensley following a meeting of the county’s finance committee in July. The TBI said the sheriff was charged after attempting to assault Hensley with a cane Harris was carrying.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch told Hicks last week the charges against Harris will be discussed following tonight’s meeting of the Unicoi County Commission. Lynch said commissioners plan to meet with County Attorney Doug Shults to talk about what it would take to remove Harris from office.

The district attorney general can initiate ouster proceedings against Harris by filing documents in court. This process, Lynch told Hicks, would require more investigation and depositions possibly leading up to an ouster hearing. “The county attorney wants to work and make sure they are working in conjunction with each other,” Lynch said. “The county attorney also says after an official has been indicted, it is the county attorney’s responsibility to start looking into that particular proceeding and that’s what he’s doing.” Should the state decide not to pursue the ouster, the county commission can still seek the ouster. Lynch said according to his interpretation of his discussions with Shults, if this scenario were to occur, the cost of the proceedings would fall to the county.

During ouster proceedings, Lynch said a motion can also be filed for a judge overseeing the matter to request the defendant be suspended from their duties until the matter is resolved. If that was to occur in the case of Harris, Lynch said Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins would become the acting sheriff.

If a judge was to ultimately rule in favor of an ouster, Lynch said it would then be up to the County Commission to appoint a new sheriff.

“It’s still a long, long way from indictment to conviction,” Lynch said last week. “In the meantime, the sheriff is still the sheriff until something else is filed.”

Tell us what you think. Should Sheriff Kent Harris be removed from office before he stands trial on the charges against him?

Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com  . Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.

You also can go to www.johnsoncitypress.com to cast a vote in the online poll. Results of the poll and comments from readers will appear on this page Nov. 1.

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