Rutherford County mayor speaks out about controversy surrounding sheriff

Sheriff Robert Arnold (Photo: WKRN)

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – There’s more bad news for the embattled sheriff of Rutherford County.

On Wednesday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed that it was investigating Sheriff Robert Arnold for the sale of e-cigarettes to prisoners in his jail.

Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess is now calling Arnold’s operation a conflict of interest.

According to Georgia court documents, the sheriff’s family started JailCigs in October 2013.

Mayor Ernest Burgess
Mayor Ernest Burgess says the e-cigarettes operation is a conflict of interest.

Beside his aunt and uncle, Arnold’s own chief deputy of administration, Joe Russell, is listed as a company owner.

In an interview last week with news 2, Arnold said JailCigs was not a conflict of interest. He also said he checked with the county attorney who approved the arrangement.

However, the county mayor said that is not true.

“Absolutely not. I think the evidence will support and document that in written form that that is just the opposite of being the truth,” Burgess said.

Burgess confirmed that the sheriff never put the e-cigarette business out for bids, which is mandatory.

“That is the required process, no? We never had an indication or requests to do that,” explained Burgess.

He went on to say that the county hasn’t seen one dime from the JailCigs’ operation.

News 2 filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act asking for emails from jail staff involving the business.

The station read through dozens of emails over two years written to and from Chief Deputy of Administration Joe Russell, who co-owns JailCigs.

The majority of correspondence from his jail work computer related to filling orders, dealing with delivery issues and solving problems for the vendor.

An email from Russell to Derrell Cagle on Dec. 23, 2013 read:

“Captain, just wanted to let you know the vendor called and they are dropping by with the shipments tomorrow so that everyone who placed an order today will get theirs in time for Christmas. I will meet them to get the order ready as usual and we can then distribute on schedule. I had plans to be here for a while tomorrow anyway so that works out well.”

”It’s very troubling this kind of transaction shouldn’t be taking place on county time,” Burgess said.

News 2 reached out to Sheriff Arnold and Deputy Russell, but both declined comment.

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