RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – A group calling for the ouster of Sheriff Robert Arnold is pushing for him to resign before any federal trial or plea agreement is complete.
Arnold had his initial appearance in federal court Friday morning in connection with a 14-count indictment against him in the JailCigs investigation. The charges are for honest services fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery concerning federal programs, extortion under color of official right, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Steve Layne with Tennesseans Against Public Corruption said, for the past year, the group has been working to file an ouster suit—a private civil lawsuit brought by citizens that would be separate from any action the ethics committee would take.
“We were privy to a lot of information we didn’t share at the time. We know there was a lot of information, and that’s why it was taking so long,” Layne told News 2 outside court. “But in our efforts to keep to ourselves about it our patience was tested at times.”
Tennesseans Against Public Corruption first filed an ethics complaint about a year ago when the JailCigs situation was first uncovered.
“It’s critical we feel like to have him removed from office prior to his criminal adjudication. That way he has to face the justice system the way the average citizen would,” Layne explained.
He told News 2 the indictment should send a message to other public officials and, maybe more importantly, the people who elect them.
“I think it shows the power that average citizens still have when they step forward and go after these corrupt officials,” Layne added.
News 2 checked with the Rutherford County mayor and the Rutherford County Commission Ethics Committee about Arnold’s position as sheriff.
Mayor Ernest Burgess said the county commission cannot remove the sheriff from office. He would have to step down or be convicted of a felony.
The Rutherford County Commission Ethics Committee said it would meet in the future to discuss what actions it can take. The ethics committee does not have the power to remove the sheriff from office.
Previously, the committee wanted to wait until the investigation resulted in action at the federal level.
Some state lawmakers have also stepped up and asked for Arnold resign, including Senator Jim Tracy.
He said, “The scandal and ensuing investigation have served as a troubling distraction for Rutherford County, and the sheriff’s department over the past year. This distraction makes it impossible for Sheriff Arnold to continue to uphold the duties of his office, including keeping the good people of Rutherford County safe.”
Tracy continued, “It is my hope that Sheriff Arnold will heed this call and allow the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department and the people of this great county to move forward.”
On Saturday, officials told News 2 that Arnold does not plan to resign from his job.