New Bradley Co. sheriff, Eric Watson, is fresh off the show room floor. In fact, he still has that new sheriff smell. Bradley Countians are hopeful (after four long years of Jim Ruth and the slippery Bird brothers) that he will bring an overdue sense of fairness and order to the Bradley Co. Sheriff’s Office.
Well, it’s only been a month since he took the oath of office and already his newly assembled command staff is throwing up a couple of red flags. Perhaps his band of merry men includes a stinker or two. Let’s take a look, shall we …
First of all, the optimistic part …
* Brian K. Smith, Chief Deputy
Brian Smith is Watson’s new Chief Deputy. This is largely a ceremonial rank, but Smith is well liked and has over 30 unblemished years of law enforcement experience with the city and county. Additionally, Smith has served well as a Bradley Co. commissioner for the past eight years. Lastly, he is brother to Bradley Co. Trustee Mike Smith, who has done a good job in that position and seems to have always conducted himself fairly. We assume the Smith boys were “raised right” and their public service seems to reflect that. We wish Smith all the best in his new position.
* Gabe Thomas, Capt. of Corrections
Gabe Thomas is back in his former position as Capt. over Corrections. This was the right thing for Watson to do for a couple of reasons. First, Thomas is one of the only African-American deputies left at the BCSO. When Jim Ruth and the Bird brothers came into power, Thomas was Capt. over Corrections (the first black officer to hold that position and generally credited for the good job he did). However, under the nefarious Ruth-Bird regime, Thomas was demoted to a slick-sleeve grunt and stuck in a back corner of Court Services, where he has lanquished the past four years. Out of all (former sheriff) Tim Gobble’s command staff officers demoted when Ruth-Bird took control, Thomas is the only one who was never allowed to regain rank. For the last four years his career has been more or less on hold, so it is good to see him back.
* Richard McAllister, Dir. of Support Services
Strictly speaking, Richard McAllister, Watson’s pick to be Dir. of Support Services, is not law enforcement. He comes from a manufacturing background, where he performed the same duties he will perform at the BCSO; that is, budgeting and procurement. McAllister is a long-time Watson supporter and has always been active in his political campaigns, so this is a case of Watson rewarding a friend. However, McAllister has almost a quarter century experience in his field and seems to be a decent enough guy, and all new sheriffs bring their friends, supporters and cronies on-board when they take office. So we give McAllister the benefit of the doubt and wish him well.
* Keith Edwards, Capt. of Patrol
Same with the new Capt. of Patrol, Keith Edwards. Patrol is where the rubber meets the road and Edwards has held a supervisory position in that department before. So, while we can think of any number of officers we would prefer to see in that position, we wish Edwards the best and caution him to not do anything too stupid.
Now, the stinkers …
* Steve Lawson, Capt. of Criminal Investigations
Watson’s hiring of Steve Lawson to be captain of CID is political payback, pure and simple ~ it’s the same position Lawson held for four years under Tim Gobble, after Gobble rescued him from a dead-end maintenance job at Bowater back in ’06. When Gobble left after one term, Lawson ran for sheriff himself (his third attempt), but lost the election to Jim Ruth after a feckless campaign marked by deception, whining and failure. Instead of drifting back to his old Bowater job, Lawson was rescued again; this time by the villain Steve Bebb (former district attorney), who hired him to be director of the Drug Task Force. Lawson is the Grima Wormtongue of the BCSO: sources tell us that under Gobble, he was fawning, retaliatory and aspired to be “the power behind the throne.” Expect him to continue in that same behavior under Watson.
(A side note: We have to give Steve Lawson credit for one thing. Back in 2011, as head of the DTF, Lawson was able to finally nab long-time Bradley County commissioner and “flea market fence” Howard Thompson for “receiving stolen goods.” Howard eventually took a plea and resigned from the commission. But, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same: Today, three years later, Howard is back in his old seat on the county commission and Lawson is back in his old seat as head of CID. We’ll call that whole fiasco a wash.)
* Arnold Botts, Dir. of Administration
Watson named former Cleveland police chief Arnold Botts to be his new Dir. of Administration. As with the Lawson appointment, this is an area of concern, because in 1991, Botts resigned as CPD police chief three days after a Bradley Co. Grand Jury wrapped up an investigation of undisclosed criminal allegations against him. We don’t know the nature of the allegations because there’s scant little info available and, as part of his plea deal, all records on the matter were sealed. However, at the time, Botts publicly stated, “I have come to the conclusion that certain past instances of poor judgement on my part have affected my ability to effectively continue with this department as a police officer.”
According to the TimesDaily (Sat. Oct. 26, 1991), results of the Grand Jury investigation “were ordered sealed after Botts said he would resign and never again seek police employment.” Obviously, neither Watson nor Botts seem too concerned about Botts’ promise, as he scrambled to stay one step ahead of a felony indictment, that he would “never again seek police employment.”
We weren’t aware there was a statute of limitations on keeping your word, but these are complicated times and we may have missed the memo. Around the HTC newsroom some have speculated that Watson would get around that little “never again seek police employment” problem by claiming that Botts was hired as a civilian administrator, not as a law enforcement officer. But if that’s the case, why is Botts sporting a uniform, badge and sidearm? Maybe he will be kind enough to address that question for us.
Either way, friends, that is new sheriff Eric Watson’s band of merry men. Let’s pray he will hold them to a higher standard (Botts notwithstanding) than previous administrators. Time will tell. And so will we.