Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

With apologies to The Who, I couldn’t keep those lyrics from popping into my head when I heard Rutherford County is hiring several people from Pathways Community Corrections to work in its new probation services department.

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the last six months, you might not know Rutherford County and PCC are the subject of a federal lawsuit alleging they ran an “extortion” scheme against low-income probationers, keeping them trapped in the system for years all for the sake of profit.

To this point, Rutherford County has taken it on the chin in court, being forced to release several people from jail who were put there for the simple reason they couldn’t pay.

Then, the county found itself between the proverbial rock and hard place when PCC told local officials it was closing shop at the end of March. Maybe the company, which is part of a much bigger fish in California, felt it was easier to get out of the probation business in hopes the court would go easy on it.

Apparently, Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess is taking the same view, because he thinks it can only help the county to start performing this task itself rather than put it in the hands of another private vendor. The mayor also contends Rutherford County has done nothing wrong, even though county officials sat and watched for years as people got mired in the system because they couldn’t afford the PCC fees and court fines.

“I don’t think the county’s going to be on the hook for anything,” Burgess says.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs probably beg to differ, and they’re likely interested in seeing if the county probation department, which will be handled as a recovery services division, will gouge probationers the same way PCC allegedly did.

To its credit, Rutherford County is hiring only one of nine PCC employees named in the federal lawsuit, those accused of mistreating probationers and threatening to have them sent to jail if they didn’t pay fees. Burgess has also said the county needs to work with probationers and help them get out of the system.

But several Rutherford County commissioners who voted against creating a new county probation department are criticizing the decision to hire employees of a company that just “severed” a contract with the county and remains a co-defendant in the lawsuit. And despite what Burgess says, the court will determine whether Rutherford County is “on the hook.”

Dissenting county commissioners insisted on looking at probation services finances every month and then a review of the entire program in six months to decide whether it needs changes or needs to bid for a private vendor. Clearly, they don’t want to hear anyone singing “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Favoritism Flies Here
One of the basic rules of plumbing is: Everything runs downhill. Or is that engineering? Oh well, who cares?

In every organization, stuff flows from the top and down through the ranks. So it was no surprise when Rutherford County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Randy Garrett called the sheriff’s office one evening to ask for help with his unruly son.

Garrett

Garrett

Since he lives inside the Murfreesboro city limit and presumably pays city taxes, he could have called Murfreesboro Police. He says as much in his phone call and conversation with a patrol supervisor, according to a recording obtained through an open records request.

Garrett tells the supervisor he needs deputies to pick up his 31-year-old son, Mitchell Garrett, who is facing criminal charges, and take him to a hospital to be evaluated and possibly admitted to a mental institution. Garrett says he’s done all he can for him and he’s just worn out with it.

“I’m sorry to put you in this situation,” Garrett tells the supervisor. “I’d call the city (police), but I’d rather call the county (sheriff’s office).”

Well, of course, because if Murfreesboro Police went to the scene, all sorts of questions would be asked about alcohol consumption, drug use and everything else under the sun, and more than likely somebody would go to jail.

As it turned out, according to a sheriff’s spokeswoman, another son of Garrett took the troublesome son away.

Everybody went home happy that night.

But if the average Joe Six-Pack had called the sheriff’s office with a similar complaint from a home inside the city limits, they likely would have been told to notify Murfreesboro Police. And there’s absolutely no way they would have been patched through to a supervisor. This ain’t Hawaii Five-O, and Steve McGarrett’s not waitin’ on Danno’s call.

Garrett, who—incidentally—is on medical leave now, according to the county Human Resources office, was hired away from Murfreesboro Police Department in 2010 to help the inexperienced Robert Arnold grow in his new role as sheriff. After all, he had served only as a jailer and school resource officer prior to the Republican tide that rolled over election ballots that year.

But considering everything that’s happened since Arnold has been sheriff, it’s hard to imagine Garrett is giving him good advice. The sheriff’s office is under investigation by the FBI and TBI for several unauthorized, no-bid agreements and contracts, including the JailCigs deal in which a company owned by Chief Administrative Deputy Joe Russell and Arnold’s aunt and uncle sold e-cigarettes to inmates through their family and friends.

Arnold also hired his cousin and made him a patrolman in spite of several questionable episodes and intervened in the case of another deputy who was pulled over on I-24 in a DUI stop. The list is so long it would take an entire issue of the Pulse to compile it all, so I won’t bore you with all the details.

Suffice it to say, stay on this sheriff’s good side: tell him what he wants to hear—whether wrong or right—don’t rat him out to the feds and you can do just about anything you please. And, if you rank high enough you can call dispatch and get a supervisor any time you need a personal favor. It all starts at the top.

Give Me Back My Bullets
This just in: Murfreesboro Police says it has nothing new to report on the purported shooting outside Sheriff Arnold’s house a week after the Super Bowl.

Can you feel the shock waves rolling through town?

Arnold called half of MPD and the sheriff’s office to his house in early February when he said he heard gunshots fired from the street. Investigators said they found six .22-caliber casings—the preferred weapon of all thugs.

You might recall Arnold discussed the shooting with reporters and said it could be linked to Beyoncé’s anti-police video, one in which she apparently decries police shootings across the nation of several young children. She also performed during the Super Bowl halftime show and put on some sort of tribute—whether to Michael Jackson or the Black Panthers or both, only a discerning eye could tell.

Anyway, regardless of Arnold’s ramblings, Murfreesboro Police couldn’t be blamed for not treating this like a triple murder.

Certainly, any person who takes potshots at Arnold and his family deserves to be prosecuted. But the information on the police report is so scant and shaky it’s really hard to believe any threat took place.

The bigger problem is this, though: Nobody takes this sheriff seriously anymore.

Political Talk
If you’re interested in politics—Pulse readers need to branch out from food and music, at least occasionally—take a look at some of the races possibly heating up this year.

A handful of people could be running to replace state Rep. Rick Womick, a Rockvale Republican, in House District 34. Real estate agent and longtime political operative Tim Rudd says he’s running for the seat, along with attorney and child advocate Christy Sigler and local attorney Jimmy Turner. Former Circuit Court Clerk Laura Bohling also is considering entering the race, but as a Democrat after serving as a Republican for four years in the clerk’s office.

In House District 37, Republican state Rep. Dawn White could face a challenge from Democrat Becky Goff, who picked up qualifying papers. Her husband is a major at the sheriff’s office.

First-term Republican Rep. Bryan Terry of Lascassas also could see opposition from Democrat Justin Miller, who also picked up papers. And state Sen. Jim Tracy, a Republican from Bedford County, could run up against Steve Lane, a member of Tennesseans Against Corruption, which has been working to oust Sheriff Arnold.

The qualifying deadline for these seats is April 7, so several of these names could change. But if nothing else, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, it’s good to see some contests lining up for this fall.

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About the Author

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com

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