Citizens for Better Government
Blount County Tennessee
Sheriff threatens women, elderly, even Commissioners
Recently, there have been disturbing reports of harassment and threats by some members the Blount County Sheriff’s department against citizens of the county who dare to criticize the department.
The latest example occurred at the January Commission meeting. Ron McTigue, 77 years old, found himself being waved out of the Commission room into the hall by Sheriff James Berrong. The Sheriff told McTigue that if he continued to ask questions about what happened to the 28 Sheriff’s vehicles missing from the recent inventory, that he would sue McTigue. Mr. McTigue, is seriously ill, partly from the lifelong effects from being a Marine fighting in Korea. The cost of drugs for he and his wife leave very little extra money. He was shaken by the Sheriff’s threat, particularly because, just a few months ago, in a similar encounter, the Sheriff ordered McTigue “to be in my office tomorrow at 10am”. McTigue declined the Sheriff’s order. Strangely, a black unmarked car followed McTigue home from the Commission meeting and parked in front of his house for more than four hours. In fear for his safety and the safety of his wife, McTigue sat for the entire time behind his door with a shotgun ready. But McTigue is not about to knuckle under to the Sheriff’s threats. Mr. McTigue says:”I did not get shot at in Korea only to be intimidated by a Sheriff who refuses to answer a simple taxpayer question.”
Sadly, this is not the first time the Sheriff and some members of his department have tried to harass or intimidate citizens. In 2005, the county paid $50,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit filed by a county employee against the Sheriff.
In an even more serious case, Sheriff James Berrong and the County are being sued for more than a million dollars by an elderly lady, because the Sheriff allegedly told the woman that he would burn her house down, set her dog on fire, and kill everyone in her family.
The Sheriff’s department has also attacked leaders of citizens groups who question the actions of the department. In a recent letter to the editor, the Assistant Deputy Chief for Internal Affairs and Training, (ironically the guy within the department responsible for maintaining standards of professionalism) called the leader of a leading citizens group a “vampire”. His choice of words tells us everything we need to know about his professionalism.
More Sheriff’s harassment was directed at another citizens group when the group placed flyers critical of the Sheriff, but supporting the working-level deputies, on a table designated by the Commission for such materials. One of the Sheriff’s deputies grabbed the flyers off the table, saying “this material don’t need to be here” and threw the flyers in a garbage can. When a member of the citizens group questioned why the deputy did such a thing, the deputy replied: “because I wanted to, and because I can”. The deputy continued, telling the elderly man “you can get it out of the trash can if you want one”. An immediate public complaint was made to the Mayor, who was chairing the meeting. The Mayor said such conduct was unacceptable and promised to deal with the matter like a “Marine drill sergeant”. Weeks later, when questioned about what disciplinary action had been taken, the Mayor said it was “the Sheriff’s problem”. Now, months later, there is no sign that any disciplinary action was taken by Sheriff Berrong.
Even County Commissioners are victims of harassment by the Sheriff and his minions. In one recent case, a Commissioner requested copies of certain expenditures made by the Sheriff’s department. His request was greeted by a letter, from the Assistant Deputy Chief of Internal Affairs and Training, which accused the Commissioner of having “stupid tendencies” and being a “coward”. The Sheriff’s Assistant Deputy Chief went on to say: “You are absolutely scared to death to come to the Sheriff’s Office and meet”. While the Commissioner is not a coward, who could blame him for being reluctant to come to the Sheriff’s office, in view of the harassment and threats recounted here.
There are many good, professional, deputies who work at the Sheriff’s department. They understand that their job is to uphold and enforce the law. Unfortunately, there are also a few people at the department (who are often in senior positions) who don’t seem to take professionalism seriously. They seem to think they are the law. Those people are no better than the thugs they are supposed to be chasing.