ERWIN — Former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris is scheduled to make his initial appearance in Unicoi County Criminal Court today on his latest official misconduct charge.
On Feb. 16, a Unicoi County grand jury returned one true bill charging Harris with official misconduct for allegedly having a Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department employee use departmental supplies and equipment in November to prepare a letter soliciting funds to pay Harris’ attorneys’ fees during the employee’s working hours. Harris was the sheriff when this is alleged to have taken place.
This followed an October meeting of the grand jury, which at that time returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, attempted aggravated assault, criminal simulation and theft over $1,000.
On Feb. 7, Harris appeared in Unicoi County Criminal Court and entered a plea of not guilty to the charges from the grand jury’s October session. He is scheduled to begin trial on the theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation charges on July 30. Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who was appointed in November to oversee Harris’ court proceedings, set a motions deadline of April 30 and a May 30 deadline for an entry of a negotiated settlement for Harris’ initial charges.
Today’s hearing was originally scheduled for March 27, but Blackwood previously notified the court he would be unavailable for the arraignment hearing on that date.
Harris submitted his letter of resignation to the county on March 1. In the letter, Harris cited ongoing health problems due to injuries suffered in an August 2010 fall from the roof of the Unicoi County Jail as the reason for his resignation. On March 9, the Unicoi County Commission met in a special called session and unanimously accepted Harris’ resignation.
Mike Hensley was appointed by the commission on March 26 to serve as the county’s interim sheriff until the August general election. Hensley and Unicoi resident James Lengel are seeking the office in the election, and the winner will fill the remainder of Harris’ term, which expires in 2014.