There was no evidence suggesting that a Clinton reporter intentionally took the county mayor’s keys after a recent Anderson County Commission meeting, and there is no evidence that a criminal violation occurred, authorities said last week.
The case is now closed, the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department said in a six-page supplemental report.
Clinton Courier News reporter Chris Silcox had been suspended from the county government beat at the weekly newspaper during the investigation. Courier News Publisher Allen Handley has since put Silcox back on the beat.
The missing keys report was filed by Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank after an Anderson County Commission meeting on May 19. She told investigating officer Harold J. Crowley that she was unable to find her keys after looking under benches and bench pads in Room 312 at the Anderson County Courthouse after the County Commission meeting that night. She soon learned that Silcox had her keys, and he returned them, although some were still missing, the mayor said.
A series of phone calls and text messages ensued involving the mayor, her staff, the Sheriff’s Department, and Silcox as they worked to resolve the question of whether the reporter still had some of the mayor’s keys or just a keychain with value cards, and whether he would return them that night, according to the report. In one text message, Silcox said he had part of the mayor’s keychain and would return it in the morning, and in another message, he said he didn’t have any keys, only a keychain with value cards, Frank told Crowley.
After speaking to Anderson County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Bradley A. Prewitt, Silcox did return the keys that night, the report said.
“At the conclusion of this investigation, I feel that Mr. Silcox has given a plausible explanation as to how he came to be in possession of Mayor Frank’s keys and how they came to be separated,” Crowley said in the report. “While discussing this incident with Mr. Silcox, I feel that Mr. Silcox was truthful, and at no time did I feel he was being deceptive during the interview.”
Crowley said he discussed the case with Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark and reviewed video recordings of the Commission meeting and Courthouse hallways.
He said Frank, who has since changed door locks, had genuine concern about her office and house keys.
“I think this is a reasonable concern,” Crowley said.
Silcox told Crowley he had accidentally picked up the mayor’s keys at the meeting after unwittingly seating in her seat while she addressed the County Commission. When the mayor came to reclaim her seat, Silcox said he picked up all his reporting equipment, including a notebook, camera bag, and other “small stuff.”
“While I was picking up my belongings up off the bench, I must have inadvertently put the mayor’s keys in my pocket,” Silcox told Crowley. “I don’t remember seeing the keys, but she obviously left them on the bench when she got up to speak.”
Silcox said he realized later that he had two sets of keys in his pocket, but he thought his wife’s keys must have come apart in his pocket. Silcox had driven his wife and youngest daughter to Chattanooga earlier that day, and he said he came to the County Commission meeting with his wife’s keys.
While still at the Courthouse and informed that the mayor thought that he had her keys, Silcox said, he returned a key ring that included a Jeep key to Richard Burroughs, the mayor’s chief of staff, after recognizing that the key did not belong to him or his wife.
Later, after arriving home and talking to Prewitt on the telephone, Silcox confirmed with his wife that he still had some keys and value cards on a separate key ring that did not belong to her.
He said he later apologized to the mayor for the inconvenience and returned her keys as soon as he realized he had them.
Frank said she was unable to catch Silcox before he left the Courthouse on May 19, and she could not reach him on his cell phone to ask for the rest of her keys. She told Crowley she was worried that night and thought she should file a report.
While waiting for an officer and a return phone call from Silcox, the mayor said, she grew more concerned and decided to publicize the incident on her private Facebook page as a “measure of protection” for herself.
“I felt that if something was afoot for any reason that might be detrimental to me, that having a lot of folks know about the incident up front would protect me,” Frank said.
Frank told the Courier News on Friday that she still had some questions about the incident.
“I still don’t believe it adds up,” she said. “I had to get a deputy so I could get my keys back?”
But Frank told the newspaper that her biggest concern was a perceived threat that Silcox alleged she made when he returned her office and house keys that Monday night. Silcox told Crowley that Frank asked him who he had given the keys to.
“It really hit me that she was accusing me of taking her keys on purpose,” Silcox said. “I told her that of course I didn’t give her keys to anyone, and that I brought them back to her as soon as I realized that I had them. She made a comment like ‘you need to watch yourself’ or something to that effect, and I walked back to my truck and drove home.”
Frank told the Courier News that she made no such remark.
“I told him, ‘You need to examine yourself, I think your discernment is off,’” Frank said.
Courier News Publisher Allen Handley called the missing keys incident an unfortunate misunderstanding.
“Obviously we were glad to hear of the Criminal Investigation Unit’s findings, which cleared Chris of all accusations and of course closed the case,” Handley said. “But, it’s nothing that I really didn’t already expect. I mean, with the fact that he tried to return the keys upon being told he had taken them, the initial incident report stating no intent of wrongdoing on his part, and that the key rings were all returned that night. There was no conspiracy to take County Mayor Frank’s key rings.”