Note: This story was updated at 10:25 a.m. August 5.
DA responds to political targeting charge
There was no political targeting of Trooper Anthony Lay before his five-day suspension by the Tennessee Highway Patrol in May, but there were “real, serious, and repeated performance failures,” Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark said Friday.
Clark documented what he called Lay’s performance issues in a statement released Friday. A DUI charge in one case was dismissed, Clark said, after Lay failed to submit a complete case file and then did not respond to requests for documents by fax, mail, and email. He cited two cases where Lay failed to appear in response to a subpoena. In one of those cases, Lay faced potential arrest for contempt of court and showed up 20 minutes late, but the judge dismissed the case because Lay wasn’t present, the DA said.
Clark said he saved Lay from going to jail in that case because he declined to have the trooper arrested and instead called his sergeant to see if he could get Lay to court to avoid further trouble.
Clark cited another case where he said Lay failed to arrest a driver who was impaired and had four or more prior DUI convictions, possessed drugs and drug paraphernalia, and was a habitual motor vehicle offender. Lay issued the driver a ticket, but he should have taken the driver into custody after the man finished his medical treatment, Clark said.
In issuing his statement Friday, Clark said he was responding to Lay’s charges in recent stories about the trooper’s suspension by the THP in May. In those stories, published in several media outlets, Lay said he was the target of political attacks.
Clark had initially declined to comment, saying that he prefers not to comment on officers’ disciplinary records. The DA also said Lay’s suspension was a disciplinary matter between the trooper and THP. But on Friday, he said he is entitled to defend himself from charges of political targeting.
“There was no political targeting of Trooper Lay,” Clark said. “There were real, serious, and repeated performance failures by Trooper Lay.”
Lay is a Republican challenging Sheriff Paul White, a Democrat, in the election on Thursday. Lay reiterated his claim of political targeting on Friday, asking why Clark, a Democrat, is releasing his statement now, the week of the election.
“It’s quite funny that he didn’t want to make a comment, and now, the week of the election, he wants to,” Lay said. “This is a political attack. They’re still afraid I’m going to beat them.”
“While the frequency of Trooper Lay’s violations was particularly bad, there was nothing political or unusual in the report to his supervisors,” Clark said. “The truth is that I did not know about Trooper Lay’s infractions in any other county or to the Highway Patrol directly. I did not even know that he had been suspended.”
Clark said he did write to the THP and inform them of Lay’s performance problems in Anderson County. He said he does that periodically with all the departments operating in the county.
“There was nothing unusual about me letting a commander or police chief know that an officer was not performing adequately,” Clark said. “I and my office owed a duty to the courts and the people of this county to gather the facts in these cases and to make sure that Trooper Lay got his case files submitted and showed up for court or that his supervisors knew that he was not performing as an officer should in Anderson County. No officer is entitled to specialized treatment or to fail to do their job.”
Lay has suggested that at least some of his troubles stem from a request for case files sent by the DA’s office while he was off work for five months because of back surgery. He said Clark reported that Lay had not turned in the requested documents.
Lay said he never received the letters requesting the case files, which were apparently sent to the THP office on Kingston Pike in Knoxville. On occasion, a supervisor there picks up the mail, brings it to the Anderson County substation, and puts it on his desk, Lay said.
“I did not get his mail, and anytime I have received a request, I have taken care of it,” Lay said.
Lay said other officers, from city policemen to state troopers, have had similar issues receiving mail from the DA’s office—“the reason a lot of policemen get in trouble like I have recently.”
“This happens repeatedly,” he said. “He needs better management on that issue.”
Lay suggested the DA’s office ought to use certified or registered mail.
But Clark said his office should not have to communicate with officers by certified or registered mail. In Lay’s case, he said, the DA’s office also tried voicemail, email, fax, phone calls, home visits, and an in-person conference.
“If there’s a way to reach him that we didn’t try, I don’t know what it would be,” Clark said.
He said the system works with the other 330 law enforcement officers in Anderson County. (The agencies include city and county police departments as well as several state agencies.) There have been isolated problems before, but it’s unusual for the problem to be significant enough that it leads to a suspension, Clark said.
He said officers should not have to be asked for their case files; they are supposed to turn them in when they make an arrest or write a ticket.
“Trooper Lay was not turning in his case files as required,” Clark said. “When he failed to submit case files or stay in contact, my office used follow-up mail, email, phone calls, personal meetings, faxes, and trips to his home trying to get needed contact with him.”
Lay said he was not required by law to sit and wait at home while on medical leave until an officer stopped by his house. A process server did come by his house one day, and he accepted the subpoena, Lay said.
“I showed up for court on that case from medical leave,” he said.
Clark said no one had argued that Lay was required to sit at home while on medical leave to accept subpoenas. But the report sent to the THP spans more than one year, which is longer than the length of the five-month medical leave reported by Lay, Clark said.
Clark said Lay has deflected blame for his infractions and accused Clark of starting the whole incident by informing the THP of Lay’s failure to submit required case files.
“Trooper Lay alleged that this was the result of me politically targeting him since he and I are of opposite political parties,” Clark said. “It was unclear if he was also blaming me for his infractions that were not related to his job performance in Anderson County.”
Clark said the report was sent to THP months ago.
“It was Trooper Lay that decided to publicly attack me about this issue on the eve of the pending election,” Clark said.
Lay responded to the report of his potential arrest for contempt of court. It’s not unusual, the trooper said, for judges to ask the DA if law enforcement officers should be arrested when they arrive to court late. The DA always says “no,” Lay said.
“This happens to policemen all the time,” he said. “It’s not just me.”
Being late is a human error, Lay said.
“Every human being that I know has been late,” he said. “I don’t see why District Attorney Dave Clark wants to make such a big issue out of human error.”
Clark said other officers have been threatened with arrest, but it does not happen all the time.
“There have been a handful of instances in the past eight years,” he said.
Lay said he had not had any trouble in two decades in the workplace until he ran for election in Anderson County.
“In 20 years, I have never encountered a situation like this, whether it be the lack of the DA’s office in getting registered mail to us or whether it be the negligence of someone getting the mail from the Kingston Pike office to the substation,” Lay said.
The trooper has also publicly discussed his squabbles with the THP, including over the federal Hatch Act, which limits certain political activities of federal employees both on and off duty, and his ongoing issues with a Highway Patrol supervisor.
White, the incumbent sheriff, declined to comment on Lay’s suspension. It would not be proper for him to comment, the sheriff said.
“They do their own investigations and discipline, and outside agencies don’t have any influence on that,” White said.
Lay said that if he is elected, he and Clark need to set aside their personal disagreements and work together to “keep this from happening to other law enforcement.”
“I will not hold this personally against him,” Lay said.
Clark said there is no animosity to set aside.
“We don’t have any animosity toward him to set aside,” Clark said. “It’s not about ‘I like you’ or ‘don’t like you.’ They’re just facts.”
The five cases
Here are the five cases cited by Clark, as listed in his statement:
In case B2C00501, Lay’s complete case file was not submitted, and three requests by email and mail over a nine-month period to Trooper Lay received no response. The case was then dismissed.
In case B2C00142, Lay’s complete case file was not submitted, and three requests were made by fax, mail, and email to Lay that received no response. The DUI and another charge were dismissed.
In case B2C00622, Lay failed submit his paperwork and failed to appear when subpoenaed. “Our records indicate he was sent a fax and a voicemail message without response,” Clark said.
In case B4C00224, Lay failed to appear for Court after being subpoenaed to appear. The judge indicated an interest in having Lay arrested for contempt of court.
“I declined to have him arrested and instead called Lay’s sergeant to see if he could get Lay to court rather than him getting in further trouble,” Clark said. “The case was dismissed by the judge. Trooper Lay appeared 20 minutes late. He has publicly reported that his appearance at court wasn’t needed anyway because the case was re-scheduled. That isn’t true. The case was actually dismissed by the judge because Trooper Lay wasn’t present. Trooper Lay never thanked me for keeping him out of jail.”
In case B4C00116, “our records indicate Trooper Lay failed to arrest a subject he encountered driving impaired who had four or more prior DUI convictions,” Clark said. “This individual was also found to be in possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. The defendant was also a declared motor vehicle habitual offender. Instead, Trooper Lay issued him a ticket. The defendant should have been taken into custody by Trooper Lay upon completion of his medical treatment.”
The three candidates
Clark, Lay, and White are all running in the election on Thursday.
Clark is running for his second eight-year term as DA. He is unopposed.
Clark practiced law in Nashville for several years before returning home to open a private law firm. He was elected the part-time Anderson County attorney in 1998 and again in 2002. He was elected to his first eight-year term as district attorney general in 2006, when he defeated Republican Leslie Hunt and Independent Ann Coria.
White is running for his third four-year term. He was first elected in 2006, when he beat former Sheriff Bill White, a Republican. He was re-elected in 2010. He was unopposed in the Democratic primary in May.
Before he started at the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, White worked for the Oliver Springs Police Department for five years, serving as a police officer and patrol sergeant. He has spent the remaining 33 years with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, where he advanced through the ranks from patrol deputy to commanding the Patrol Division and Court Services.
Lay first worked for the THP starting in July 2000. He was elected Scott County sheriff in August 2006 and resigned in April 2010 to become a deputy marshal in the U.S. Marshals Service in Atlanta. He worked there until until 2011, when he was rehired by the THP, returning to Anderson County because of his father’s medical illness.
Lay has also worked as a part-time dispatcher for the Oneida Police Department; as a full-time corrections officer, part-time road deputy, and full-time deputy sheriff for the Scott County Sheriff’s Department; and with the 17th Judicial Drug and Violent Crime Task Force in Middle Tennessee, among other positions. He beat former Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Randy Myers, who had previously run for sheriff, in the May 6 Republican primary in Anderson County.