Bradley County Sheriff Still on Duty After Being Charged With Six Felonies


CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Sheriff Eric Watson arrived at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office on Friday morning, was booked into his own jail and posted bond on six felony counts, then went back to work.

The charges — six counts of knowingly holding or using forged or falsified car titles — arise from a Times Free Press investigation published in December into Watson’s unlicensed used car sales.

The charges are Class E felonies, each punishable by one to six years in prison and fines of up to $3,000.

None of the charges brought Wednesday by the Bradley County grand jury relate to any other allegations of misconduct by Watson that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been looking into for 13 months. The special prosecutor in the case, 4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, did not reply Friday when asked whether the investigation is over or if more charges are possible.

› October 2011: Watson, then a Bradley County Sheriff’s Office captain, resigns in lieu of termination (see termination memo at after an investigation finds he improperly accounted for time away from work while serving in the state Legislature. His termination notice included a note from then-Chief Deputy Wayne Bird: “Not to be rehired — veracity/ integrity.”

› August 2014: Watson elected sheriff, takes office Sept. 1.

› February 2016: Bradley County commissioners discover the BCSO sold the county’s $130,000 surveillance van, packed with electronics, to a Nashville bail bondsman for $20,000. They begin questioning other BCSO disposals and eventually revise the county’s asset-disposal policy.

› March 2016: Watson takes his wife, a bail bondsman, to a BCSO-operated DUI roadblock in his county vehicle. It later was found she wrote more bail bonds than all of the nine other agents who wrote bonds for people arrested that weekend. Watson claimed the couple were at the roadblock together because their dinner was interrupted by a BCSO pursuit and he had to bring her along, but radio and dispatch records later showed he was among the first at the roadblock site and she was with him from the beginning.

› April 2016: Watson responds to conflict-of-interest questions about his wife’s job by saying the couple keep their finances completely separate. However, both names are on the deed of the $460,000 house they bought in April and its $360,000 mortgage. And a document purporting to be the registration for the Nissan Armada she drove at the time showed the vehicle registered in his name.

› May 2016: Watson holds campaign fundraising luncheon attended by some public employees in uniform and driving official cars and at which the luncheon speaker, state Homeland Security Director David Purkey, specifically praised Watson’s service as an elected official. Both appear to violate Tennessee law restricting political activities by on-duty public employees.

› May 2016: American Atheists Inc. and local resident sue Watson and Bradley County, alleging he proselytized for Christianity on the official BCSO Facebook page and censored opposing comments. County settles suit for $45,000 and changes the Facebook page.

› June 2016: A complaint Watson pulled strings to a get a woman with whom he appeared to have a personal relationship out of jail led the local district attorney to call for a special prosecutor. Jimmy Dunn, district attorney general in the 4th Judicial District, is named to lead an investigation by the FBI and TBI.

› Oct. 17, 2016: After state inspectors find broken toilets, sinks and showers and severe maintenance issues at the Bradley County Jail, the department is given extra time to fix ongoing health and sanitation issues.

› Dec. 4, 2016: An investigation into Watson’s unlicensed vehicle sales leads to a warning from the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission, which referred the case to the Department of Revenue to investigate whether sales taxes were properly paid.

› April 23, 2017: An ongoing dispute between the sheriff’s office and Cleveland Police Department came to a head after a city arrestee the jail refused for medical reasons walked out of the hospital and was shot to death. Video from Cleveland police showed another case where officers had to set free an accused felon because of a partly healed cut on his arm.

› June 4, 2017: Six months after the BCSO submitted a plan to state inspectors for making the jail habitable, the official in charge of the work resigned, saying too much remained undone and predicting the jail would fail its upcoming inspection.

The DA released a statement on Eric Watson.

Watson, a four-term state legislator and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, did not appear publicly after being booked.

In a statement released through his attorney, James F. Logan Jr., the sheriff said he has cooperated fully with the TBI and other agencies in the probe of what he called “accusations from some who desire to have more control over county government and the operations of the Sheriff’s Office.”

Watson said Bradley County residents and his employees can be assured the sheriff’s office will “continue to provide the best services possible to insure [sic] the safety and property of all citizens and visitors.”

Logan said he wasn’t sure of the factual basis behind the charges — the documents don’t explain how Watson allegedly held or used an altered or falsified title. He said he hopes the issue can be resolved once the facts are known.

Logan pointed out the charges related to Watson’s personal life, not his duties or performance as sheriff.

“It’s an incredibly sad event” for the sheriff to be booked into his own jail, Logan said, adding that Watson “wants justice.”

The county commissioner who has made multiple allegations of misconduct against the first-term sheriff wants more investigations.

Commissioner Dan Rawls repeated a litany of allegations he said the TBI either hasn’t explored or hasn’t acted upon, from alleged misuse of county credit cards to unaccounted-for money.

“I have a fiduciary responsibility and there were financial improprieties from the beginning, one well-documented incident after another,” he said. “At some point, somebody has to be held accountable.”

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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