Note: This story was last updated at 5:50 p.m.
CLINTON—Anderson County Public Works Director David Crowley has been found not guilty on charges that he conducted building inspections without proper certifications.
A seven-man, five-woman jury found Crowley not guilty on all five counts after deliberating for about one hour and 45 minutes Thursday.
Crowley had been accused of violating the state’s building official certification law.
With the acquittals on Thursday, he can seek to have the charges expunged from his record, Anderson County Criminal and Circuit Court Judge Don Elledge said.
A few key questions raised in the trial had been whether five building inspections conducted by Crowley between October and December 2013, when he was not certified by the state, were within a 12-month grace period and whether they posed a danger to life, safety, health, and welfare. The question of when the grace period started depended upon whether Crowley’s interim hiring in September 2012 should be considered the starting point, or whether it should be his permanent appointment in November 2012 or his first inspection in February 2013.
The trial started Wednesday morning in Anderson County Criminal and Circuit Court, and it ended Thursday afternoon.
Asked for comment after he was acquitted, Crowley and his attorney, Hugh Ward, said they “couldn’t be better.”
“We’re happy,” said Crowley, who thanked the Lord and said he was on the righteous side. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Citing testimony from a state witness, Ward had argued during the trial that Crowley’s grace period began in February 2013, when he did his first inspection.
“He never did those inspections unauthorized or outside the 12-month grace period,” Ward said in his closing argument Thursday.
Also, re-inspections of the properties by civil engineer and surveyor Noel Peterson, who was accepted as an expert witness during the trial, found that they met codes, Ward said. There were no safety issues, he said.
“They (the state) haven’t proved their case, and so you must acquit,” Ward told the 12-person jury.
But prosecutor Tony Craighead said Crowley had started his job in September 2012 and knew that he had to be certified. He suggested that some of the public works director’s actions, including the fact that he still hasn’t passed all six certification tests—which allow for inspections of residential and commercial buildings, plumbing, and mechanical systems—shows a disregard for state regulations.
“I submit to you that he knew that he had to have that certification,” Craighead said. “He’s not too worried about what the state thinks…He knows that he doesn’t have the authority to do it. He doesn’t think the law applies to him.”
The law requires that if you inspect buildings, you have to be certified, Craighead said, although there is a grace period to obtain it. Crowley wasn’t certified, knew he wasn’t certified, and he performed inspections that posed a threat to life, safety, and health, Craighead said. He said the statute is very clear that homes that are not built to code present a safety issue.
Ward countered that Crowley, who was appointed by Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank and confirmed by the Anderson County Commission, started classes to become certified after his first inspection, which was still within the grace period. Crowley tried to comply, Ward said.
Among those who testified during the trial were Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager. Yeager testified that he talked to Crowley about getting his certification at least three or four times, and at one point, Crowley told Yeager that he had worked in construction for 30 years and didn’t need certification.
“This was an ongoing issue with myself and Mr. Crowley,” Yeager said, referring to the possibility that the public works director was performing inspections without certification.
A few people relayed concerns about Crowley doing inspections, Yeager said, including Curtis Perez, who was the county building inspector but now works for Clinton; Lisa Crumpley, a former county building inspector who now works for Oak Ridge; and County Commissioner Steve Emert.
Yeager contacted the state fire marshal and notified the Anderson County Commission, telling them he would turn the matter over to the district attorney. There is a duty to residents who pay for inspections and also a liability issue, Yeager said.
“They don’t want an unlicensed person to come out (to do) their inspections,” he said.
The inspections at issue included slab and footing inspections, among others, on Old Lake City Highway, Foust Hollow Road, Hidden Valley Road, Laurel Road, and Luke Leinart Lane.
Gary Farley, director of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Division of Fire Prevention, Residential/Electrical Contract Inspections, said Crowley was not certified at the time of the inspections, and inspectors require certification. But he didn’t have safety concerns in these cases, Farley said, and there is a 12-month grace period. He said he assumes the 12 months would begin when an inspector starts doing inspections. The status should be by job duties, rather than job title, Farley said.
Colleen Cardwell, who was the environmental enforcement officer in Anderson County Public Works, testified that Crowley has been in the construction industry for 30 years, and he didn’t understand why he needed a piece of paper to prove his abilities. Cardwell said she gave Crowley several reasons why he needed it, including that it was required by the state fire marshal’s office. Crowley asked her and Crumpley to research where that was written, Cardwell said.
Crowley, who first took the job on a 60-day trial basis, testified on Thursday. He said he didn’t initially know that he had 12 months to become certified but learned that after a few months on the job.
“I think it was early spring (2013) before I learned any of this stuff,” Crowley said.
He said he started taking classes to become permanently certified around the time of his first inspection, or around March 2013.
Among those he had talked to were Perez. Perez testified that he told Crowley before he started what he had to do to become certified to inspect buildings, and he brought the public works director a study guide, among other things.
Crowley testified that he didn’t think he told Yeager that he has 30 years experience and didn’t need certification, but it’s possible.
“I think I always put out that (as a) question and not as a statement,” Crowley said.
He said he stopped doing inspections in December 2013 because Yeager raised questions, and Frank told him to stop. Crowley now has two of the state’s six certifications.
He was arrested in October 2014 by agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on five charges of violating state laws dealing with having the proper licenses to perform building inspections. He had been indicted by the Anderson County Grand Jury and charged with five misdemeanor counts of violating the state’s building official certification law.
The TBI said special agents began investigating Crowley in April 2014 at the request of Seventh District Attorney General Dave Clark. In an October 2014 press release, the TBI said agents had developed information that Crowley, who is also the building commissioner for Anderson County, performed five inspections without the proper certification.
“State law affords a building commissioner 12 months to obtain the proper certification,” the TBI said at the time. “Agents determined Crowley performed five inspections outside the grace period afforded in Tennessee law.”
No one from the TBI testified during this week’s trial, although a TBI agent was present.
Frank sent out a statement after Thursday’s acquittal.
“I have always believed when the good people of Anderson County were able to hear testimony under oath and in the light of day, that truth would win out,” Frank said. “I am extremely happy for David, his family and friends, and his wonderful attorney Hugh Ward. I am so thankful for a judicial process in this great nation that allows people of all walks of life to have evidence reviewed by a jury of our peers.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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