On Wednesday March 24, 2021, former Sheriff’s Deputy Jamie Dunn was found guilty of assaulting an individual being held in the Rutherford County Jail. Dunn immediately appealed the verdict and the case will proceed to Superior Court.
As RC Catalyst previously reported on the Oct. 2020 incident, Dunn was terminated as a Deputy with the Sheriff’s Office after being accused of striking a detained inmate in the head. Dunn was then charged by the State Bureau of Investigation with simple assault and arrested. Dunn posted bond awaiting disposition of the charge.
District Attorney Ted Bell Appears to Conceal Legal Proceedings from the Public
Since Dunn’s arrest, Sheriff Chris Francis’ Office and District Attorney Ted Bell have provided no updates for this case.
On March 24, 2021, however, RC Catalyst was informed by an anonymous source that the District Attorney Ted Bell had scheduled a trial for Dunn’s case at 1:30 p.m. that day. This source expressed concerns that the Bell had withheld information regarding this proceeding from the public.
In an effort to verify this information, RC Catalyst reviewed the District Court docket that Bell circulated to court staff and attorneys on Friday, March 24, 2021. Dunn’s case was, in fact, absent from the docket. In fact, no cases were scheduled for the afternoon of March 24, 2021.
While the District Attorney has control over scheduling cases in advance, this case was added to the docket through an “add-on” procedure to the calendar. The district attorney’s office has said in the past that add-ons are a way that a trial date is generally withheld from the press and public. In this instance, Dunn’s case was added to the docket on the day of the hearing, which resulted in the public receiving no notice that it would occur. In fact the doors to the courtroom were locked until the time of the trial. Generally access to the courtroom is given several minutes before cases are called.
Prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Lacey Beam informed RCCatalyst that the case was previously scheduled for the week before, but was continued when the case was changed to a trial. She later added on the case to the following Wednesday’s schedule.
Judge Michelle McEntyre was on the bench to hear the trial.
Revelations in Testimony Provided by Alleged Victim Raise Questions of Improper Interference with Investigations by Sheriff Francis and District Attorney’s Office
During the hearing, the State called two witnesses of note – Christian Eugene Hardin (the alleged victim) and SBI Agent Matthew Davis.
In Hardin’s testimony, he explained that he was arrested in, October 2020 when several Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call involving domestic violence at Hardin’s residence. From the time the officers arrived until he was placed in the jail, Hardin described two incidents where several deputies allegedly assaulted him.
First, during the arrest, Hardin claimed that several officers pulled him out of the police vehicle due to his behavior and physically assaulted him by, among other things, slamming his head on the ground, and engaging in an altercation that left his ribs broken and wrists in pain.
Second, after being restrained in the jail, Hardin stated that “this rage went through me. I started cussing at [Dunn], being very disrespectful.” Although Hardin claimed that he could not remember any specific comments directed toward Dunn, he stated that Dunn suddenly struck him once on the right side of the face.
Although the defense emphasized Hardin’s behavior leading up to the alleged assault, Dunn’s counsel largely focused on issues surrounding the origin and process of the investigation. For example, Dunn’s counsel made several inquiries:
- Whether Hardin initiated contact with law enforcement or, instead, law enforcement sought out Hardin;
- Whether any law enforcement officers encouraged, pressured, or took any potentially wrongful actions to ensure Hardin proceeded with criminal charges against Dunn;
- Whether Hardin had made any efforts to file charges against the other officers who Hardin claimed had broken his ribs.
Initially, Hardin attempted to withhold answers, and even asked the judge “do I have to answer these questions?”
When Hardin did respond, however, he noted that he had been approached by officers that he had not contacted, though he did not provide details about what transpired when meeting with most of these officers.
In a follow up question, Dunn’s counsel asked if Hardin had reviewed the video footage of the incident. Hardin stated that he had watched it at his own home. Given that Dunn had not been allowed to view the video footage until the date of the hearing, Dunn’s counsel inquired as to how he could have had access to the video at his personal residence. Hardin initially attempted to decline answer this question but, when pressed, stated that “someone brought it to me.”
Testimony from Investigator Bolsters Suspicions of Improper Conduct of Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney
During Agent Davis’ testimony, he explained that there was considerable delay before the District Attorney requested that the SBI investigate. As a result, Hardin was not interviewed until approximately ten (10) days after the incident.
Once Agent Davis began his investigation, he explained that he reviewed video footage for the entire incident, including what occurred during the arrest and in the jail. Dunn’s counsel asked whether Agent Davis had uncovered any additional misconduct in reviewing the video footage or otherwise. Agent Davis responded that he had discovered no additional wrongdoing. In fact, Agent Davis stated that he had not even interviewed the other officers that allegedly assaulted Hardin and broken his ribs.
When Dunn’s counsel asked why Davis had neither spoken with the other officers that Hardin claims assaulted him or looked at other possible incidents of misconduct, Davis testified that he was to look only at any potential wrongdoing “in the jail” and that he was specifically instructed “not to stray away from that.”
Defense Appears Poised to Expose Potential Misconduct on Appeal
After the prosecution and defense had completed their questioning, District Court Judge Michelle McEntire asked Hardin if he wished to speak prior to issuing a ruling. Hardin accepted the invitation and explained that he understood that Dunn was going through with traumatic issues he asked Sheriff Francis for help addressing and stated that he was “going through a lot that night too.” Hardin said that he just wanted to “move forward.”
At the conclusion of the trial, the District Court judge found Dunn guilty and Dunn immediately appealed the matter to Superior Court.
Based on the theme of improper interference or influence by the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney, it appears Dunn’s counsel has forecast what is to come in Superior Court. During a trial in District Court, a defendant is not allowed to obtain any documents, recordings, or subpoena witnesses. Because of the disadvantage this situation creates to a defendant, attorneys for a defendant typically withhold much of the evidence in their possession and only ask a limited number of questions designed to assist in preparing for trial in Superior Court.
Because the majority of the questions posed by Dunn’s counsel highlighted what appear to be disturbing incidents of interference with the investigation and legal process, including possible encouragement or manipulation of Hardin, it appears that Dunn’s counsel is poised to explore these issues in far more detail through the discovery process.
We will continue to report on this matter as it develops.