Update: Unicoi County mayor, probable election opponent clash in office scuffle

Brad Hicks • Nov 22, 2013 at 7:53 AM

ERWIN — Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch and county mayoral candidate John Day were set to do battle for the office in next year’s election.

But, according to law enforcement officials, things got physical between the two men late Thursday morning, leading to officials having to separate Day and Lynch and Lynch’s brief hospitalization.

Lynch said he and Day have ex-changed words in the past but, up to this point, disagreements have not resulted in physicality.

“I don’t know what he feels,” Lynch said. “I wish that it had never happened, but it did.”

The altercation occurred a little before noon on Thursday, Lynch said. Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said police officials were in court at the time awaiting a preliminary hearing in a case when they were alerted to a situation in the county mayor’s office. Tilson said one of the courthouse’s officers was already in the office, and the two men involved in the altercation were separated.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said he understands Day was in Lynch’s office to inquire about money Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Administrative Assistant Craig Masters owes to the county. According to a recently-released state audit, Masters received sick leave benefits that he was not entitled to from July 2012 to September 2012. County officials have previously stated the matter has been resolved, and Masters has agreed to reimburse the county the full amount owed.

Hensley said Day has acted as an adviser for Masters in the past, but the sheriff said he did not authorize Day to go to the mayor’s office to inquire about the matter and that Day is not a representative of or affiliated with the sheriff’s department.

During a statement he made Thursday afternoon regarding the situation, Lynch did not refer to Day by name. But the mayor did confirm Day entered his office to ask some questions about a county employee.

“I had a gentleman in the office, and he is actually a candidate for mayor, so you know there’s a little bit of edginess,” Lynch said. “ ... He became a little too aggressive and mouthy toward one of my employees. We had an altercation.”

Lynch declined to state who started the altercation, what prompted it and other details. However, Lynch said statements he and Day provided to police “pretty well matched up.”

“I’d rather not go there, because he can file a lawsuit against me and I can file a lawsuit against him,” Lynch said when asked for details on the altercation. “And I’m hoping we can put this thing away pretty fast.”

After he and Day were separated, Lynch said Day went to the upstairs area of the Unicoi County Courthouse. He said both agreed to sign a non-prosecution agreement. Both Tilson and Hensley confirmed Day and Lynch had signed the agreements.

Following the altercation, Lynch said he went to the local hospital since his heart was “racing a little bit.” Lynch said he is fine other than some bumps.

“I feel like I’ve been in a football game but, again, I just wish it hadn’t happened,” he said.

Lynch said his secretary, who attempted to break up the scuffle, was thrown into wall during the altercation, but Lynch said she is “fine.” Lynch said someone in the office pressed the courthouse’s “panic button,” which alerted authorities to the situation in the mayor’s office.

Lynch also said he has asked the district attorney general’s office to review the situation to get an idea of what actions other officeholders could take in similar situations. While he said citizens have the right to enter the courthouse, Lynch said he feels officeholders have the right to ask a citizen to leave if that person causes problems with the officeholder or an employee in the office.

“I wanted the district attorney to kind of look at it for the protection of other offices as far as ‘what can we do’ and ‘what can’t we do,’ ” Lynch said. “Looking back on it, like I said, I wish I would’ve done things different, and I wish he would’ve done things different. I wish he would have just left when he was supposed to. But it didn’t happen.”

Lynch said he is unsure what effect the altercation may have on the outcome of the May Republican primary or the August election.

“I don’t know what kind of effect it will have,” he said. “Normally, I’m generally an easy-going person. Like I said, I regret it happened. I hope he regrets it.”

Day said he did not wish to comment on the situation when contacted Thursday afternoon.

“I guess, the bottom line is I don’t think it deserves comment,” Day said.

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