These days, Harris spends time chasing alpacas around his Limestone farm and working to finish his new home there. Things seem to have recently quieted down for the former Unicoi County sheriff, even more with the recent announcement that District Attorney General Tony Clark would not pursue prosecution on the three felony charges that Harris had not yet been tried on.
“It should have never went to court to start with, but I’m glad he finally made the right decision,” Harris said.
The former sheriff said the announcement puts an end to an “ordeal” that began nearly three years ago with his fall from the roof of the Unicoi County Jail in August 2010. Following the fall, Harris received treatment locally and out of state for injuries that included a brain injury, and he made occasional trips home to Erwin during this time. During one of his trips home, Harris learned he was the target of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe.
“I never imagined there would ever be any charges that would come out of it,” Harris said. “I guess one of the things that bothered me all along was no one ever interviewed me or attempted to interview me from the TBI or the district attorney’s office. Actually, my lawyer, he had sent them a letter that said ‘If you want to talk to him, we’ll set something up.’ We never got anything back.”
In October 2011, however, a grand jury indicted Harris on 10 felonies, which included six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, attempted aggravated assault, criminal simulation and theft over $1,000. Other charges would follow.
Citing ongoing health problems caused by the August 2010 fall, Harris resigned as sheriff in March 2012.
“I didn’t resign as sheriff over these charges, I can promise you that,” he said. “I would have fought it to the very end if my doctors would have allowed me to, but it got to the point where the doctors said ‘You can’t handle this job anymore. You can’t do it physically or mentally.’ So, it wasn’t an easy decision to make, and I tried to put it off as long as I could. In fact, looking back, I think it was the right decision because it gave me time to really start getting better and not worry about what was going on down there. I could concentrate on getting better.”
After three failed attempts at convictions — two mistrials and a mid-trial dismissal — over the better part of a year, Clark filed motions dismissing remaining charges that had not yet gone to trial, ending Harris’ ordeal. He maintains that he was innocent of all charges, and he thinks Clark was pushed by others to pursue the charges in an effort to remove him from office.
“I don’t know who all the people are. I know who a few of them are, it was some political enemies I had,” Harris said. “I honesty believe if I wouldn’t have got hurt, none of this would have ever happened because I would have been there to defend myself.”
Harris said the criminal charges and trials took an emotional and financial toll on him and his family.
“It was very hard on you,” Harris said. “Every night, when you go to bed, you have it on your mind. But I have to say this — the good Lord has gave me peace. When I would go to bed at night, I would say a prayer that the truth come out on all this. As far as having any sleepless nights, I didn’t. I knew all along that the truth would come out eventually.”
Still, Harris has no intentions of stepping back into a courtroom anytime soon. He said he has no plans of pursuing civil action against his accusers.
“I’ve made my mind up that we’re going to go on forward,” he said. “It’s time to move on, I think.”
Aside from the bleating of sheep and clucking of chickens, Harris said, life has been peaceful on the family farm in Washington County where he now resides. He and his family moved there in June, but Harris said they will keep the home they own in Erwin.
“We’re making friends down here and going to church down here now,” Harris said. “We’re going to make Limestone our home.”
The ex-lawman said his priorities are now working to improve his health, as he still suffers from vision and balance problems due to the fall from the jail roof, and spending time with his family.
And Harris has not ruled out a return to politics, although his days as sheriff are behind him and he does not plan to seek that office again.
“You never know what tomorrow would hold,” he said. “As far as being sheriff, I’ve talked to all my kids, and I hope they’re doctors or lawyers or something and don’t get into law enforcement.”
Harris said his legal situation was a divisive issue for Unicoi County, with some proclaiming his innocence and others believing his accusers. So he is glad to see the matter come to an end.
“I hope that Unicoi County can move on,” Harris said. “As a Christian, I forgive these people that have done me wrong and, looking at some of the lies that were told, you have to forgive them and move on. That’s what I want to do, is move on.”