A Saturday Independent probe over several weeks has uncovered sources who allege that city officials regularly use inmate trustees from the Coffee County Jail to do personal work on their vehicles, homes, and own equipment.
Interviews with legal experts, former trustees and city officials corroborate a pattern of misconduct involving the improper use of city-owned earth-moving equipment, using inmates to do mechanical repairs and odd jobs at the personal residences of some city officials, and the use of inmates as a personal car detail service.
A former trustee who worked at City Hall from December, 2010, to June, 2011, told TSI that he has washed well in excess of 100 personal vehicles for elected officials and “multiple officers”. “I’ve washed [Manchester] Mayor [Betty] Superstein’s P.O.V. [personal-owned vehicle] at least 50 times”. Trustees allegedly ran errands for elected officials, according to our sources. “I was driven by Scotty Peterson to unload groceries at Mayor Superstein’s home, and cleaned her garage of furniture and other personal items. We were instructed to do whatever the mayor wanted “no questions asked”.
The trustee said this took place place spring. “We were told not to say anything, and if we didn’t, we would be allowed to stay out of jail longer and eat a second meal at Jiffy Burger rather than eating jail food.” TSI has confirmed from multiple sources that calls often go out over the Manchester police primary radio – which is at City Hall – for officers to pick up these food orders from the local restaurant. All work release inmates normally eat a packed lunch.
However, those under the ward of Manchester City eat up to two meals a day, “except for Sundays,” at Jiffy Burger. “I’ve been taken to several officer’s houses to work on their personal property. One instance that comes to mind is working on an officer’s tractor. “City equipment is also used for personal use. Scotty Peterson dug a pond on his property with city equipment. “Get an estimate on what something like that costs and it’s pretty darn steep. They were telling people it was for fill dirt for the city, but that dirt is pretty worthless as far as quality goes.”
That instance occurred roughly one year ago. The dirt reportedly was to be used to fill-in a site on Interstate Drive in Manchester that the City had targeted for a new police station.That project has been stalled because of funding issues. Another trustee told TSI that not only did he have friends and relatives visit him at City Hall, but even engaged in sex with his girlfriend while under the charge of the City.
“There’s a bed under the staircase for the inmates to sleep. I had my girlfriend come up there and used the bed for sexual relations three or four times I’d say”. This not the first time in the City’s history that misuse of inmates by city officials was bought to inter-departmental and public attention. In the late 1990s, then City Administrator Tom Head reprimanded current Manchester Police Capt. Wilma Thomas for using inmates for personal chores. Thomas was suspended from her duties on the police force for two weeks.
Tennessee’s official misconduct statute only applies to public officials who have an affirmative duty to act and refuse to do so or who misuse their official authority for private gain.” Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 09-72 (May 6, 2009). Pursuant to T.C.A. § 39-16-402(a), a public servant commits an offense who, with intent to obtain a benefit, or to harm another, intentionally or knowingly: 1. Commits an act relating to the servant’s office or employment that constitutes an unauthorized exercise of official power; 2. Commits an act under color of office or employment (acting or purporting to act in an official capacity or take advantage of such actual or purported capacity) that exceeds the servant’s power; 3. Refrains from performing a duty that is imposed by law or that is clearly inherent in the nature of the office or employment; 4. Violates a law relating to the servant’s office or employment, or 5. Receives any benefit not otherwise provided by law. It is a defense to prosecution for this offense that the benefit involved was a trivial benefit incidental to personal, professional or business contact, and involved no substantial risk of undermining official impartiality. T.C.A. § 39-16-402(c). The offense of official misconduct is a Class E felony. T.C.A. § 39-16-402(d). See State v. Szczepanowski, 2002 WL 1358681 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2002) (upholding the constitutionality of the statute); State v. Chumbley, 2007 WL 1774250 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2007) (jail administrator convicted of official misconduct and theft). See also Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 94-073 (June 16, 1994) (the acceptance of a gift by a county official or employee from a company that does business with the county may, depending upon the circumstances, constitute the criminal offense of official misconduct); Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. U93-48 (April 6, 1993) (a school superintendent requiring vocational students to provide repair work to his personal residence may constitute official misconduct); Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 91-76 (August 20, 1991) (a deputy sheriff is not entitled to a reward given for a service performed within the duties of his office; the acceptance of such a reward might be considered official misconduct). Under T.C.A. § 8-47-103, county attorneys are directed to investigate any complaint alleging that a county officer within their jurisdiction is guilty of any of the acts constituting official misconduct as set forth in T.C.A. § 8-47-101, and upon determination of reasonable cause, to institute a proceeding in the appropriate court to oust such official.
Inquiries to the Manchester Mayor’s office were not returned as of late Friday night.
This is an ongoing investigation. More will be posted at www.tsinews.com.