Ex-officer, current member of school board pleads guilty

Brad Hicks • Feb 14, 2014 at 9:34 PM

ERWIN — A former Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department captain and current Unicoi County Board of Education member has pleaded guilty to misdemeanors including reckless driving, failure to exercise due care and vandalism under $500.

Ricky L. Butler, 53, 1005 Highway 107, Unicoi, appeared in Criminal Court on Friday to enter a best interest plea. A grand jury charged Butler in June with two counts of filing a false report and one count each of reckless driving and failure to exercise due care.

The false report charges, Class D felonies, were dismissed as part of Butler’s plea. Butler pleaded guilty to an information on the subsequent vandalism charge, bypassing the grand jury process.

Butler was sentenced to six months after the reckless driving plea. He was sentenced to 30 days for failure to exercise due care and was sentenced to serve 11 months, 29 days on the vandalism charge. Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ordered that these concurrent sentences be suspended, and that Butler be placed on supervised misdemeanor probation for a period of 11 months, 29 days.

The presentment document previously filed in Criminal Court said the offenses occurred on or around Jan. 16, 2013. Court documents said Butler committed the false report offenses by initiating a report or statement to a law enforcement officer “concerning an offense or incident within the officer’s concern knowing the offense or incident reported did not occur.”

Documents said Butler committed reckless driving by operating a vehicle “upon a public road with the willful and wanton disregard for the safety of other persons and/or property,” and committed failure to exercise due care by failing to avoid colliding with an object or vehicle within or beside the roadway right of way.

Information on the incident that led to Butler’s charges was not available Friday.

Following the hearing, Butler said he entered the pleas in the case to “get it over with.”

“I pled to that to get rid of it,” he said. “I was so tired and aggravated with it. My whole family has been tore up over it. I pled that way so I can still keep my certification, it’s just misdemeanors.”

In January 2013, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said Butler, along with another officer, had resigned from the sheriff’s department in order to avoid disciplinary action, adding that the resignations were the result of separate internal investigations revealing “misconduct and inefficiency on the behalf of the officers.”

A release issued by the sheriff’s department at the time of the resignations said both had resigned after they were made aware of the investigations’ findings, were placed on administrative leave and were informed that a termination hearing would be held.

Butler, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, was given the option to resign or face a termination hearing, Hensley said last year. Hensley also said the investigation involving Butler was due to his violations of the department’s operating procedure and misconduct, adding that a report of the investigation’s findings had been turned over to the District Attorney General’s office.

Butler was elected to serve on the Board of Education in August 2010, and he said Friday that he did not anticipate his pleas impacting his service on the board. Board Chairwoman Renea Jones-Rogers said she was previously advised by the Tennessee School Boards Association that the state attorney general would decide if Butler’s removal from the board is warranted, and information on Butler’s plea would be submitted to the attorney general’s office for its review.

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