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Sheriff candidate Jones addresses Concord GOP


Receiving kudos for “catching that killer” in the Johnia Berry murder case before speaking to Concord-Farragut Republican Club, former Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones talked about the case and Sunshine Law among his topics Thursday, Oct. 11, at Farragut’s Gondolier restaurant.

Weighing in on the state’s Sunshine Law violation that, by court ruling Oct. 5, sent he and 11 other appointees out of office, the new KCSO assistant chief of administration and sheriff candidate said: “We’re talking about appointing caretakers to fill the positions until an election comes.

“They say they want someone who’ll agree not to run. To me, if you’re going to agree to not run for the position, then you don’t need to be appointed to the position,” he added. “I [had] a $57 million budget, and you’re going to put somebody in there to run the Knox County Sheriff’s Office who is accountable to no one?

“I think it’s the craziest thing — it’s beyond me how someone could come up with that.”

Former chief deputy Tom Spangler is acting sheriff.

About his seven-and-a-half months as sheriff, Jones said, “When you go buy a car, you don’t get to drive it seven-and-a-half months and decide if you’re going to keep it or not. I don’t think it’s fair to judge the people [appointed] just because the process was flawed. Judge the people on the merits or what they’ve done since they’ve been in that office.”

Asked about the Sunshine Law’s intent to curb two or more commissioners deliberating on county business outside a public forum, Jones recalled Knox County’s former three-member county government — representing roads, finance and welfare.

“That’s who decided what happened in Knox County,” Jones said. “Now we have such a large number of people [County Commission] that two people talking together can’t really do on a 19-member Commission.

“I’m confident, next year you’ll see in Nashville, that the Sunshine Law, you’ll see revisions and you’ll see changes.”

One audience member took exception to what he perceived were Jones’ comments about how the Jan. 31 vacancies were filled.

“When I look at the people who were appointed … I think that there were some citizens who would have liked to be given the opportunity to tell their qualifications and be considered,” the man said. “There weren’t.”

“I do not disagree with that,” Jones answered. “I think that this time, that’s what you’ll see.”

The man came back, “Why did it happen in the first place? Something went wrong.”

Jones answered, “I agree the process did not look good, and maybe you could say it was flawed. … There should have been more public input. People should have been able to stand up, give their qualifications and tell why they wanted to be in the job, and they should have been listened to.

“I think what you saw what happened is, ‘this is always the way it’s been done,’” Jones added. “And now that’s going to be changed.”

Saying the appointment process would have gone largely unnoticed if only a few had taken office, Jones said, “There was just such a large number, that it made people pay attention,” Jones said of the 12 seats filled.

About the Berry case, “We do have a D-N-A match,” Jones said of alleged murder Taylor Lee Olson, 22, of Knoxville. “The numbers are really crazy. It’s so exact that this person could be the only person in the population of world that it matches, 6.7 billion people. That’s pretty strong. … The only two that have identical D-N-A are identical twins.

“We feel very comfortable that he’s the guy. … He cooperated with us.”

About Olson’s alleged motives, “He didn’t know ’em, it was a random act,” Jones said. “To me, that’s the scary part. Usually in homicides that are committed, they’re committed by someone that they know. ... Those are very tough cases to solve.”

The case, Jones said, also involved federal and state authorities. “And we sent over 400 pieces of evidence to the T-B-I crime lab,” he said. “There were thousands and thousands of man-hours spent on this case.”

At KCSO, “We had one detective assigned for two years, 10 months to do absolutely nothing but work this case,” Jone said.

With more than 1,100 employees at KCSO, Jones praised office “dedication, hard work,” and officers who are “so

professional.”

With a new $15 million “pod,” or detention facility, having recently opened in Knox County to help house more than 1,100 prisons, “For the first time in two-and-a-half years we don’t have prisoners sleeping on the floor,” Jones said, adding that as of Oct. 11 there were about 134 “open beds.”

“We’re under a federal mandate in our downtown facility, the cap is at 215 prisoners, if we go over that cap, for each prisoner for each day it’s a $5,000 fine. And that goes back to the taxpayers,” Jones added. “With this new pod and those new beds, we’re going to be able to do that. We feel like that’s a great accomplishment.”

Jones said many county prisons who “go out and work” can have their sentences cut in half. “They have to agree to it,” the ex-sheriff said. “We have very, very few that agree. They would rather lay in there for six months than go out and pick up trash for three months. That’s the kind of people we’re dealing with.”

Asked about illegal immigrants, Jones said, “At any point in time I’ll have 75 to 80 illegal aliens in jail for no driver’s license and [no] insurance. … If they do, later on down the road, commit a violent crime, we have a fingerprint and a picture — we don’t have a name.”

Saying illegal immigrants often use “Juan Valdez” as an alias upon getting a driver’s license, Jones added. “We’ve got a thousand ‘Juan Valdezes’ out here driving around with a legal Tennessee driver’s license.

“It’s a tough problem citizens are concerned about. That’s what they want to talk about. They want to know why we’re not picking ’em up and sending ’em back home.

“Until we get some help from the federal government on being able to load ’em up and bus ’em out of here, there’s not much we can do.”

 

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