The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been asked by the Cleveland Police Department to confirm the “legitimacy” of an assault complaint filed against 10th District Attorney General Steve Bebb and a candidate seeking to replace him says the whole thing is just politics as usual.
CPD Information Officer Evie West confirmed Monday in a press release former Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Lecroy Schemel filed the complaint Friday.
Schemel claims the assault came just prior to her being fired from her position with the office.
The details released by the CPD say the complaint, which has yet to be made public, was filed against Bebb alleging “a misdemeanor assault took place on April 2, 2014.”
West said the matter has been referred to the TBI in order to confirm whether the allegations warrant further action.
“We are treating it as an active investigation and will be unable to release any other information at the time until we receive further recommendations from the investigating agency,” West said in a statement released Monday.
The Cleveland Daily Banner made efforts to get a copy of the report, but West said she had not been aware at the time she released the statement that the officer who took the complaint, CPD officer Daniel Gibbs, had not completed the “initial reports,” and she had taken her information from his notes.
West said the officer did not work over the weekend and was to complete the report today. She said once the report is completed it would be given to Lt. Robert Harbison, who would then review, sign off and pass it along to Capt. Mark Gibson and Chief David Bishop.
Harbison told the Banner early this morning he is unclear if the report is an assault report, indicating it could be filed as a miscellaneous report.
West told the Banner the report would be available Wednesday.
Josh DeVine of the TBI said the agency had not received a formal investigation request as of Tuesday morning.
“Investigations are requested by district attorneys general and not local law enforcement agencies,” DeVine said. “Because this matter involves a district attorney general, the request would have to be made by the state attorney general.”
Bebb said Monday he had been “talking to people” about the situation.
“I am in the process of deciding what the right thing to do is,” he told the Banner. “Until then, I think it’s best not to comment.”
Stephen Hatchett, who worked under Bebb until he left the Attorney General’s Office to run for the top position himself, told the Banner Monday the accusations are “just politics.”
Bebb is supporting Hatchett in the election and the candidate said it was “no secret Schemel was supporting my opponent” and accusations have also been brought that Bebb was improperly using his office to campaign for Hatchett, which would be a violation of the Little Hatch Act.
That law prevents state employees from campaigning during work hours or using state equipment.
The only paper evidence that has been brought forth is a letter Bebb sent to Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference Executive Director Wally Kirby in January.
That letter informed the conference he would not run again in 2014.
The final sentence reads, “My only interest is doing my best every day until August 31, 2014. I plan to campaign for Stephen Hatchett for District Attorney.”
Hatchett, who left the DA’s office to make the political run, said the timing of the accusations is “suspicious.”
“I do find it interesting [Schemel] did not file the report until two days later,” Hatchett said.
He noted Bebb has yet to be charged with any wrongdoing and was critical of state Sen. Mike Bell who has asked for Bebb’s resignation, for having rushed to judgment.
“Unless we want to bring back the Star Chamber [referring to the ancient British justice system where cases were held in secret with no indictments or witnesses] and tear up the Constitution, that is just uncalled for,” he said.
Hatchett said the week had been “a good one” until the Schemel story hit the media.
“I had been able to talk to people about the issues that people want to see addressed,” Hatchett said. “Then, I end up spending hours and hours having to answer this stuff. It upsets me an irresponsible reporter decided to tie all of this to my campaign.”
Hatchett released a formal statement to area media in response to the accusations against Bebb. The statement is reprinted here in full:
“The Chattanooga Times Free Press published a story on Sunday regarding allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Steve Bebb.
“I have no knowledge of the truth or falsity of the allegations of the assault that supposedly occurred, but I have no doubt that a full investigation will occur.
“Fortunately, forensic science is much more advanced and I am sure that if an assault did occur there will be physical evidence to support the claim.
“However, [Times Free Press reporter] Judy Walton’s attempt to tie the story to my campaign for District Attorney General is yet another instance of politics as usual in this district.
“First and foremost, Cindy Schemel’s claim that she was fired for supporting my opponent cannot be taken seriously. It was common knowledge that she was supporting my opponent at least three months before it was reported in the Times Free Press earlier this year.
“I did not care that she wasn’t supporting me because quite frankly her firing does not surprise me in the least.
“While I have been out meeting folks in my campaign, I have heard complaints from citizens all over Bradley County about her refusal to prosecute cases, particularly cases involving the sexual abuse of children.
“Law enforcement officers in Bradley County have been extremely upset with her lack of aggression in prosecuting sexual predators since she took my place as the lead prosecutor on child sex abuse cases which confirms the complaints I have received from the public.
“My opponent on at least two occasions has given public speeches complaining about the terrible job being done by the Assistant District Attorneys in the 10th Judicial District and I assumed he had heard the same complaints I have and was talking about Mrs. Schemel. Based upon my opponent’s comments, I would have been shocked if he wanted her working for him either.
“I am not aware of any violations of the Little Hatch Act by Steve Bebb. Mrs. Schemel, Assistant District Attorney Mac McCoin and Assistant District Attorney Brooklynn Townsend are all public and vocal supporters of my opponent and all three, until Ms. Schemel’s firing, are currently employees of the State of Tennessee and subject to the Little Hatch Act.
“I am unaware of any effort on Ms. Walton’s part to investigate if their activities on behalf of my opponent have violated the Little Hatch Act even though she wrote the article earlier this year talking about them supporting my opponent.
“State Sen. Mike Bell is quoted as calling for General Bebb’s resignation based on Mrs. Schemel’s accusations before there has been a formal charge or even a chance for the matter to be submitted to a jury.
“We have a justice system for a reason and every person has the right to face his or her accusers.
“General Bebb was just cleared after a two-year-long investigation that wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars and was nothing more than a political witch hunt. That investigation was based on nothing more than anonymous sources, allegations and innuendo.”
The Banner left a message for Schemel at the Chattanooga law firm with which she and her husband are associated to seek comment. A staff member said the request would be relayed to her; however, a response had not been received by the Banner as of press time today.