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DA: Don’t dismiss Harris chargesDA: Don’t dismiss Harris charges

District Attorney General Tony Clark filed a response last week to a motion to dismiss all charges against Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris. In it, Clark asked the court to deny the defense’s motion, which was filed by Harris’ attorneys on Monday, Oct. 24.
Clark outlined several clarifications to the motion originally filed by James Bowman and co-counsel Stacy Street, including the indication that the grand jury meeting on Oct. 14 was not convened specifically to hear evidence against Harris, as Bowman alleged in his motion.
“The grand jury was convened as a regularly scheduled grand jury by the criminal court judges for the First Judicial District and heard other cases concerning unrelated defendants, as is its routine,” the response stated.
To the defense’s allegations that Clark dismissed two grand jurors outside the provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, the response indicated that Clark only asked jurors if they “had any family or working relationship with the Unicoi County sheriff … that would prevent them from being impartial in considering evidence against the sheriff.”
Clark reiterated in his official response, which was filed in Unicoi County Criminal Court at 9:55 a.m. last Tuesday, the same information he told The Erwin Record in a telephone interview shortly after the original motion to dismiss was filed.
“Without any further inquiry, those grand jurors were allowed to leave,” Clark’s response said. “Additional grand jurors were summoned … and were empaneled.”
Bowman alleged that a third grand juror, who joined the panel following the dismissal of the initial two, was also was released from service for reasons other than those outlined in Rule 6(c) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Clark responded by stating in his answer that the third juror “expressed some working relationship with the Unicoi County sheriff in regards to K-9 training.” The response went on to indicate that the presiding judge was aware of her dismissal.
Clark also affirmed that he did not testify or present evidence during the grand jury’s deliberations or during their voting to present true bills against Harris, as Bowman’s motion indicated.
Clark also said that even if he had “overreached” during the grand jury’s session on Oct. 14, his actions should result in an ethical violation subject to professional review by the state’s Supreme Court, not in the dismissal of indictments against Harris.
Clark stated, however, that he “adamantly denies any impropriety” on his part during the proceedings. He also cited a 1980 case in which the Supreme Court declined to dismiss an indictment due to a district attorney superseding statutory authority in questioning jurors, which was allowed in the state until 1981.
“We handled this properly and by the law,” Clark said last week. “This is just a tactic that they’re using to try to get this case dismissed, or to prolong it.
Addressing the defense’s concerns that Rule 6(c) of the TRCP was violated, Clark responded that the rule is limited in its scope and could allow for prejudiced grand jurors.
“Neighbors, friends, colleagues and any other sorts of persons are not prohibited from sitting on a grand jury by Rule 6(c),” Clark said in his response. “Nevertheless, those types of persons could have a difficult time rendering a decision that harms a person they know well.”
Clark indicated in the document that Tennessee courts would not likely take issue with inquiries that go beyond the rule, so long as they are “intended to insure that the grand jury in question can fairly decide a matter before it.”
Clark concluded his supporting information with a viewpoint from the Supreme Court, taken from a 1977 proceeding, in which the court ruled that “the interest and appearance of justice … demand that every reasonable effort be made to insure that grand jurors are reasonably free from prejudice.”
“The presentment of 10 felony counts by the Unicoi County grand jury were the product of the grand jury’s determination, not by any undue influence of this district attorney general,” Clark said in his answer. “For this reason, the honorable court should deny the defendant’s motion.”
Both Clark and Bowman told The Erwin Record that they are not aware of when a hearing on the defense’s motion will be scheduled in court.
Harris, who is charged with six counts of official misconduct and one count each of criminal simulation, theft over $1,000, tampering with evidence and attempted aggravated assault, is set to appear for arraignment in Unicoi County Criminal Court on Nov. 22.
Bowman indicated last week that his motion would probably not be considered at that time.
“I’d be a little bit surprised if it was because of the procedures of the court,” Bowman has said. “I would imagine that probably on that day, the court will set a date to consider (our motion) or to hear arguments.”