Local man complains of bullying tactics by Watson

By BRIAN GRAVES Staff Writer
Posted 8/23/17

The stepbrother of a former female inmate at the Bradley County Justice Center has filed a complaint against Sheriff Eric Watson with the POST Commission, the agency in the Tennessee Department …

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Local man complains of bullying tactics by Watson

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The stepbrother of a former female inmate at the Bradley County Justice Center has filed a complaint against Sheriff Eric Watson with the POST Commission, the agency in the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance that oversees law officers' training and certifications, alleging the sheriff engaged in “bullying” tactics against the inmate.

According to the complaint filed Tuesday, James N. Taylor claims the incident which occurred on April 15 in the jail’s sally port “were I believe at the very least out of line and at worst possibly a violation of inmate Stephanie Anderson’s civil rights.”

Taylor referred to a report filed by BCSO Deputy Jason Brock which said Watson came to the jail on that day and inquired about Taylor’s sister, Stephanie Anderson.

The report says Watson’s wife, Tenille, bonding agent Bernie King, and King’s husband, Harry, were in the sheriff’s vehicle during the incident.

“Once in the sally port area, Sheriff Watson began to question [Anderson] regarding a rumor that reportedly started with [Anderson] about [Watson’s] wife, Tenille, being arrested for meth,” the report stated.

Records do not show Tenille Watson has ever been arrested for methamphetamine charges.

The report continues saying Anderson told the sheriff another inmate, April Wakeman, was the one who had told her and did not know where Wakeman got the information.

“Sheriff Watson then told inmate Anderson to go back to I Pod and let all the ladies know that the rumors regarding him, his family and administration needed to stop immediately or he would shut down everything in I Pod and place them on lockdown,” the report said.

The report also states Watson ordered the directive to be placed on roll call, suggesting there was no attempt to hide the sheriff’s directive.

Taylor said he waited to file the complaint, suggesting Anderson’s civil rights were violated, until his sister had been transferred to a Nashville facility for “fear of retribution.”

“The way he treated this inmate was wrong and equates to schoolyard bullying, there should be no place for that kind of treatment from an elected official,” Taylor wrote.

Watson told the Banner Wednesday morning he had never heard from the inmate’s family before Wednesday’s complaint.

He noted Anderson was a state inmate and was already scheduled to be transferred to Nashville.

“It was a good conversation I had with her,” Watson said. “We shook hands after it was over.”

He also noted he had Deputy Brock stand as a witness and had him file the report.

The sheriff said it is a daily occurrence when he and his staff question inmates about issues “which could affect order in the jail.”

“We also do many positive things for our inmates as an incentive for good behavior while incarcerated,” Watson said.

Watson also said he never releases any video from jail security cameras.

The complaint was filed with the POST Commission on Tuesday and, according to media reports, copies were sent to 2nd District Commissioners Louie Alford and Thomas Cry, who represent Taylor as a resident of that district at the same time along with County Mayor D. Gary Davis, Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference, and reportedly “others.”

Taylor’s complaint would be outside the scope of the County Commission which, according to state statutes, cannot bring action against the sheriff.

An ouster suit which Commissioner Dan Rawls has said he is preparing against the sheriff “with outside help” has yet to come to fruition.

The “others” who received a copy of the complaint did not include the Cleveland Daily Banner, which was not provided a copy of the complaint and acquired its copy after contacting County Attorney Crystal Freiberg late Tuesday afternoon.

Freiberg said at the time she had yet to see the document, but had been informed it was sent to her office.

Taylor also complained about the lack of access to security camera video, noting “there have been plenty of pictures and video released on other matters from the sally port.”

Other media repeated allegations of recent difficulties in late March between officers from the BCSO and the Cleveland Police Department concerning the BCSO Corrections Department's reported refusal of a subject arrested by the CPD.

However, the video which hit social media of the incident did not come from BCSO security cameras. It came from the body camera of CPD Officer Brandon Colbaugh.

Also repeated were reports of the lack of access to security camera video of an alleged incident on Feb. 8, in which Rawls filed a report claiming Watson had been chased by his wife across the grounds of the Justice Center driving a white SUV.

Rawls said his source was a BCSO employee, who was not identified in his report to the CPD.

Watson told the Banner at the time, "We didn't even own a white SUV during that time period, nor was she on the property during that day.”

The sheriff also said Rawls had “crossed the line” when making accusations against his wife and "I am going to defend my wife. I love my wife. I love my family," he added. "It's not right for a county official to put my wife, my kids, my family and her family though this. And, he knows exactly what he is doing."

The officer in charge of those security cameras, BCSO Deputy Mike Boggus, told the Banner at the time of the allegation those video recorders were not operational on that day.

In an email to his commander provided to the Banner after the initial allegation, Boggus reported, “I am the only one who works on the cameras and it is up to me to know if they are working. Normally if cameras are not working, I receive a call or email about it. This outage was not noticed by anyone because the cameras continued to display properly, just not recording to the hard drive. I had not had a request for any video off this recorder in some time. I just did not notice it, most of the video we obtain on a regular basis is in the prisoner areas. Last time I obtained video from this recorder was on 10/8/15, 1/14/16, 5/19/16, and 9/29/16. None of the 16 cameras recorded any video on 2/7/17, 2/8/17, or 2/9/17.”

In his letter of complaint, Taylor also asks the question, “Does an inmate lose their 1st Amendment Rite (sic) while she is in custody?”

The laws concerning the rights of inmates contain many gray areas.

According to Jailhouselaw.org, “The First Amendment protects everybody’s right to freedom of speech and association. Freedom of speech and association includes the right to read books and magazines, the right to call or write to your family and friends, the right to criticize government or state officials, and much more. However, in [jail] those rights are restricted by the [jail’s] need for security and administrative ease. Because of this, it is often very hard for a prisoner to win a First Amendment case.”

Findlaw.com states, “Inmates retain only those First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech, which are not inconsistent with their status as inmates and which are in keeping with the legitimate objectives of the penal corrections system, such as preservation of order, discipline, and security.”

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