State legislators challenge sheriff
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Mar 21, 2013 | 1899 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some state representatives on the Criminal Justice Committee expressed disgust Thursday concerning comments made by Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth in a newspaper column in which he stated Tennessee Code should be changed to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine.

Ruth stated, “The politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and meth dealers blocking a new, effective law have made for some strange bedfellows.”

State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, challenged any law enforcement officer in Tennessee to go to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney General and file charges against any member of the Legislature who accepts money in exchange for legislation.

“Short of that, put up or shut up,” Shipley said.

His comments came more than an hour into a 90-minute discussion on H.B. 617 that would reduce the amount of pseudoephedrine available over the counter from 9 grams to 7.2 grams per month.

Shipley said for law enforcement officers to say, “We’re on the take with the pharmacy industry, that’s not helpful and it’s not just discourteous, it’s downright dishonest.”

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, wasn’t bothered by the column. He said negative comments go with the job of an elected official and asked committee members not to lose sight of a very important piece of legislation.

“Honestly, if Sheriff Ruth made those comments, it has no effect on me,” he said. “You can call me a low-down dog, but I don’t have to answer to it because I know I am not a low-down dog.”

Parkinson’s comments came after a motion to invite Ruth to address the committee in person.

Justice Committee Chair Eric Watson concurred with Parkinson’s comments and asked committee members to vote against the motion.

“We need to stay focused on what we’re doing. I don’t want to go too much into this,” he said.

The motion was withdrawn.

Terry Ashe of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association said this is an issue that centers around Bradley County and not other police chiefs, the sheriff’s association, highway patrol or TBI.

“This is one individual’s personal comments,” he said. “I’m sorry one individual’s comments have come to this.”

Some legislators said they were offended by Ruth’s remarks and during discussion leading up to the withdrawn motion, Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said, “Sheriff Ruth is accusing me, and the members of this committee of taking money from lobbyists and meth dealers because of our opposition to the pharmaceutical prescription [legislation],” he said. “Sheriff Ruth, I challenge you to do one of two things: Come here to the state Capitol and arrest me or come to this podium and apologize.”

Watson apologized to the members of the committee, public safety commissioner and the governor for Ruth’s comments that he said do not reflect the opinion of Bradley County residents.

“I just want to apologize for the comments made in that [newspaper column],” he said. “That’s my home county. The comments in local and statewide media do not reflect the beliefs of officers on the streets or the citizens of Bradley County.”

Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, named several county sheriffs he said “Accentuate what good law enforcement officers do.” He said they ask legislators to look at policy with a discriminating eye. They provide influence and guidance to legislators.

“But their job is not to come up here and vote. If they want to come up here and vote, maybe they should run for state representative,” Rich said. “I don’t know the sheriff’s name … but if he wants to make accusations, don’t do it with the cowardice of writing an article to the paper. Be a man about it and come up here and see us.”

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, asked Ruth to come to the Capitol building to observe the long hours and hard work by legislators.

“Mr. Sheriff Ruth, have the cajones to come up here to War Memorial 105 and look at me eyeball to eyeball and say I’m on the take,” she said. “It’s very offensive and before you make those accusations, a little word of advice to you — be careful of what you say. That kind of stuff disturbs me.”

Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth asked “When is enough, enough?” in his weekly column published March 3 in the Cleveland Daily Banner.

The sheriff expressed his thoughts on methamphetamine use in Tennessee he said costs taxpayers $1 billion or more per year. He discussed the nearly 400 children who have been placed in foster care, plus countless others who have been irreparably harmed, displaced, neglected and abused.

Ruth stated that in his opinion, the existing system to track pseudoephedrine purchases is a failure. It is not stopping the purchases for illegal use.

“The politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and meth dealers blocking a new, effective law have made for some strange bedfellows,” he wrote. “Almost weekly there are reports that this meth problem is getting worse. Yet, the answer is very simple. The General Assembly should change the law back to prescription purchases only. This change in the law has broken the back of meth dealers in the states where the state lawmakers backed the lobbyists and profiteers. When will the folks in Nashville decide it is enough and say “no” to the Tennessee meth dealers?”

Ruth’s column added, “Also, when the light is shined on the reason the law is not changed, it all shakes out to m-o-n-e-y and profits. It is apparent that the special interest lobbyists in Nashville have more clout than the state’s sheriffs, other experienced law officers in Tennessee or the voters. Nashville decides it is enough and say ‘no’ to the Tennessee meth dealers?” Ruth stated.

Ruth did not respond to an attempt to contact him this morning.