Audit finds BCSO allegations ‘baseless’

By BRIAN GRAVES Staff Writer
Posted 12/20/17

The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office received no findings in its Fiscal Year 2017 report, and that now includes the extra concerns and allegations passed on to state auditors.

Although the …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Audit finds BCSO allegations ‘baseless’


The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office received no findings in its Fiscal Year 2017 report, and that now includes the extra concerns and allegations passed on to state auditors.

Although the state’s clean audit of the BCSO was released a few weeks ago, this is the first official confirmation that the allegations which led to a discussion of a possible forensic audit have been found to be invalid.

The state called the allegations which were forwarded  “baseless or incorrect.”

These allegations are not related to the charges Sheriff Eric Watson now faces concerning his personal business in car sales, of which a ruling on the request to dismiss those charges could potentially be handed down by Judge Don Ash this week.

In a statement from John Dunn, spokesperson for the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, to the Cleveland Daily Banner he acknowledged the office was asked to look into “specific allegations related to the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office” during the current audit.

That process was finalized in September when it was agreed by a special Bradley County Commission ad hoc committee — which was looking into the possibility of hiring a forensic auditor — and state auditors that the state would begin its normal procedures for its yearly audit.

Any additional concerns would be passed along to the auditors through Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg and would be given added attention by the state auditors.

Bryan Burklin, assistant director of the Local Government Audit Division of the state comptroller’s office, said at the time that his office had obtained “an additional list of information we have been asked to look at.”

“We’ve had questions about vehicle disposition — and a whole laundry list we’ll look at as we go through the audit,” he said.

“If we found evidence of improper activity, we would have developed audit findings on the Sheriff’s Office and presented them in this report,” Dunn said in his statement to the Banner on Tuesday.

According to Dunn, auditors spent approximately 200 hours “on these allegations.”

“We reviewed each of the allegations and found many of them to be baseless or incorrect,” Dunn said. “Based on the records we reviewed, and county employees we interviewed, no evidence came to our attention to indicate the allegations were valid.”

He noted that District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, who was placed in charge of the criminal case against the sheriff, has been kept informed throughout the audit process as well as the county attorney.

Commissioner Thomas Crye, who sits on the Finance Committee and was one of those who forwarded his concerns to the auditors, said he respects the results of the audit.

“State law requires you to report fraud if your are a duly elected county official,” Crye said. “Based upon the allegations that were presented to me and the County Commission concerning money in the food account that could not be properly accounted for, credit card use, and time card abuse, I had no alternative under the law but to report it. As a commissioner, I am one of the fiduciary agents for the county’s money and I felt I was obligated.”

“Now that it’s over and the sheriff has been cleared of all these allegations, the taxpayers of Bradley County should be reassured that their funds are all there and being properly managed by the duly elected officials — including the sheriff,” Crye said. “I congratulate the sheriff on these allegations being cleared and he being exonerated. I wish him the best and it’s time for the elected officials and the citizens of Bradley County to get on with doing the people’s business.”

At this point, the only formal charges made against Watson have stemmed from the allegations by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance that he altered, falsified or forged six vehicle titles.

During a hearing last week, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Harrell told Ash those would be the only charges pursued against the sheriff, suggesting any further charges resulting from information provided to the TBI by Commissioner Dan Rawls would not enter into any case against the sheriff.

In a statement to the Banner, Watson said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I did not believe that the allegations which were submitted would be found to have any merit,” Watson said noting this represents the fourth consecutive audit of the BCSO without any findings.

The sheriff did refer to Rawls, who has been at the forefront of casting allegations against Watson on several different fronts and was the one who spearheaded a request for a forensic audit of the BCSO.

“Since I have held the office of sheriff, Commissioner Dan Rawls has consistently proven to be an antagonist of both myself and this office,” Watson said. “His conduct has required many hours and tax dollars to be spent in responding to requests for information. It is now time for us to reemphasize the necessity of cooperative efforts among our governmental entities and government officials.”

Watson maintains Rawls’ actions were initiated by his refusal to fire two deputies who had filed a lawsuit against Rawls and his engine repair business.

The commissioner has consistently denied he made any such request of the sheriff.

Rawls eventually lost that lawsuit and Watson noted the chancellor’s findings “were inconsistent with the position which was taken by Commissioner Rawls and his testimony was not deemed credible enough to sustain his position.”

The sheriff’s statement was forwarded to the commissioner for comment Tuesday afternoon, but he had not responded as of press time.

“I respectfully request that Commissioner Rawls cease attempting to defame the operations of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office or its sheriff,” Watson said.

Watson thanked the County Commission for allowing the in-depth audit to be performed by state auditors “rather than wasting potentially tens of thousands of dollars in an audit and allowing these false allegations to continue to exist.”

“The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office will continue to strive for the greatest security for our community and its visitors while also practicing the conservative budgetary practices I promised to use when I was elected to this office,” Watson said.

“As always, the credit fir the work if the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office truly goes to our officers and staff in which I continue to take great pride in having them as part of my administration,” the sheriff said. “I solicit the prayers, support, assistance and tips of the good citizens of Bradley County to help us as we strive to be an even better sheriff’s office.”


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment


Print subscribers have FREE access to by registering HERE

Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE

We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.

If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.

Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE