Note: This story was last updated at 8:15 p.m. July 23.
A candidate for Anderson County sheriff suspended by the Tennessee Highway Patrol in May said he has been the target of political attacks.
THP Trooper Anthony Lay was suspended for five days in May for unsatisfactory job performance, a spokesperson said Monday. The suspension was based on several factors, including insubordination, neglect of duty, failure to perform the duties of his job, non-compliance with an internal database system, and having an unsecured patrol unit in a populated area, said Dalya Qualls, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Safety.
The administrative review that led to Lay’s suspension was received in April 2014.
Lay said he had been off work for five months because of back surgery, and Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark reported that Lay had not turned in some requested case file documents. Lay said he did not receive the letter requesting the documents, and the request letters were apparently sent to a Knoxville office.
“I have received no documentation requests on it whatsoever,” Lay said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Clark declined to comment on Lay’s brief suspension. He said there are 330 law enforcement officers working in the county.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to comment on my officers’ disciplinary records,” Clark said. “That’s between them and their home departments.”
The disciplinary issue involving Lay is between the trooper and the THP, Clark said.
Lay said the insubordination cited as a factor in his suspension was related to a windshield crack that he forgot to fix. A dashboard radar unit covered the crack, and he forgot about it, Lay said.
He said he had also been 10 minutes late to a court case that was postponed.
Lay, a Republican, said he had not had any trouble in 20 years in the workplace until he ran for election in Anderson County.
“I’m an honest man and won’t mislead anyone,” he said.
Lay said he had to battle the THP over the federal Hatch Act, which limits certain political activities of federal employees both on and off duty, and that delayed his campaign by about eight to nine months. He said he wrote a letter to THP staff telling them they were violating his constitutional rights. Lay said his position is state-funded, but he was told he would have to give up his job if he ran for office.
Lay did not want to name any names, although he did suggest a few Anderson County Democrats could be involved in the political attacks against him.
“I have been politically targeted,” Lay said. “I was wrongly done. The truth will come out.”
Lay said he had wanted to run a clean campaign, but he suggested that could change now.
Lay, who is in his second stint with the THP, is challenging the incumbent in Anderson County, Sheriff Paul White, who is a Democrat, in the August 7 general election.
“They’re in fear that I’m going to beat them,” Lay said. “It’s politically motivated.”
White declined to comment on Wednesday. He said it would not be proper for him to comment on the THP action.
“They do their own investigations and discipline, and outside agencies don’t have any influence on that,” White said.
Lay told the Knoxville News Sentinel that one of the THP concerns stems from his forgetting to lock his car while in West Knoxville because he was in a rush to eat. The database issue and his certification to access it involves his prior clearance as a deputy U.S. Marshal to get into the database, and whether that clearance applied to his job as a trooper, Lay told the newspaper.