ELIZABETHTON — The theft charge against Carter County Planning Director Chris Schuettler was officially dismissed in Criminal Court on Friday, just weeks after a grand jury returned a no true bill on the charge.
Assistant District Attorney Melanie Sellers said her office was not going to send the case back to another grand jury and she would prepare the order to dismiss the case. Judge Robert Cupp said the case would be expunged from the court records.
The quick proceedings brought final relief for Schuettler, his wife and mother-in-law, who accompanied Schuettler to court on Friday. The charge stems from a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation examination of Schuettler’s cell phone records from June 2008 to October 2010.
The records seemed to indicate that Schuettler was in North Carolina on numerous occasions when he was supposed to be working for the county. A review of the payroll sheets submitted by Schuettler indicated he was paid more than $1,000 for time the phone records indicated he was in North Carolina.
Schuettler said from the start that the cell phone records were merely indicating phone calls he made in the mountainous eastern sections of Carter County, where the only towers that could transmit his phone calls were in North Carolina.
Despite his explanation, the theft charge was filed against Schuettler by the TBI. Even after he was charged, the Carter County Planning Commission expressed its support for him by allowing Schuettler to remain in his position until the case was decided.
During his appearances in court, some of the planners and other county officials attended the hearings in support of Schuettler.
“I want to thank everyone who has supported me during this difficult year,” Schuettler said after Friday’s court appearance. “I want to thank my family, my church, my military unit, the people of Carter County and the elected and appointed officials who supported me.
“It is a shame the man hours wasted by the people who made the accusation and led this useless witch hunt. This time could have been used productively to make this a better county instead of attempting to crucify me for political purposes.”
Schuettler said the ordeal has been a serious distraction that has only made it more difficult to perform his duties.
“Not only was this an extremely difficult time for me and my family, it has hurt my military career.”
Schuettler is a veteran of the war in Iraq, where he was wounded by a roadside bomb, and currently serves in the Army Reserve as a senior noncommissioned officer. He was being considered for a promotion to sergeant major before the theft charge was placed.
“Not only has this hurt me personally, but it has hurt the progress of the county because of the time I have had to prepare for the trial and the times I have not been able to devote my full attention to the job because of all the distractions,” Schuettler said.
“Someone should think very carefully about the impact they are going to have on families and communities before they make false accusations,” Schuettler said.