ERWIN — The majority of the crowd that filled the large courtroom at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday evening greeted Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris with a standing ovation as he entered.
The sheriff joined his supporters and critics in the courthouse where the Unicoi County Commission was slated to discuss the fate of Harris’ post now that he is facing multiple felony charges. However, this discussion was put on hold.
At the beginning of the county commission’s regular meeting, County Attorney Doug Shults addressed the audience. Shults said the county is required to investigate the charges against Harris following his indictment earlier this month.
Shults said he met with District Attorney General Tony Clark, whose office is responsible for the prosecution against Harris, on Monday morning. Shults said Clark was at a conference last week in Nashville, where he met with representatives of the state Attorney General’s office. Those representatives advised Clark that the state Attorney General’s office was looking into civil actions relative to Harris’ removal from office.
“I think (Clark’s) position is he’s not going to do anything until we hear from the state Attorney General’s office,” Shults told the county commission in a planning session held prior to its regular meeting.
Ouster proceedings against the sheriff can be initiated by the state, Clark’s office or by the county. Shults said it would be premature for Clark’s office or the county to pursue any action until a decision is reached by the state Attorney General’s office.
Shults also added that the legal process against Harris is in its very early stages, as the sheriff has not yet been arraigned on the charges against him. Harris is scheduled to make his initial appearance in Unicoi County Criminal Court on Nov. 22.
“It’s premature to talk about the investigation, contemplation of the county to begin any actions,” Shults told commissioners in the planning session. “The first step, I think, at this point is we’re really waiting on the state Attorney General’s office and then the District Attorney General’s office.”
A closed client/attorney meeting between Shults and the commissioners that was to be held just prior to the county commission’s regular meeting was canceled. No further action on the matter was taken by the commission.
Shults said Clark advised that the state Attorney General’s office may be back in contact with him within the next week. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said it would be difficult to put a timeframe on when the matter may next be discussed by the county.
On Oct. 14, a Unicoi County grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies. These 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. A criminal summons in lieu of arrest was issued to Harris following his indictment.
Harris reported to the Unicoi County Jail last Thursday for booking and processing and was released afterward.
Harris did not speak during the commission meeting but spoke with the media after it was adjourned. Harris said he could not specifically discuss his indictment but expressed confidence that he will be cleared of the charges he is facing.
“I’ve worked in law enforcement 20 years plus ... and I’ve got faith in the court system,” Harris said. “I know in the end the truth will come out. There’s two sides to every story and my side’s never been heard. I’m not worried about it. I haven’t lost one second of sleep over it.”
Harris also said he was appreciative of the commission for not taking any action on Monday evening.
“I’m glad the commission done what they did here tonight,” he said. “Several of the commissioners said they didn’t feel like it was the county’s place to get involved in it until it went to court.”