Sevier County DA explains why charges were dropped in wildfires

(Photo: WKRN)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Last week, prosecutors dropped the charges against two boys initially thought to be responsible for starting Tennessee’s largest and deadliest wildfire this century.

4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn says it all came down to the state not having jurisdiction inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He said he found out just days before the official announcement during an interview.

The case was changing so quickly, Dunn says he was unable to reach out to the 14 families who lost loved ones in the wildfires, letting them know that charges would be dropped.

“We prayed early, we prayed early on Friday, about the decision on what we should do and how we should do it, and we acted upon that,” said he explained.

PHOTOS: Wildfires in East Tennessee

General Dunn said the outcome was disappointing, saying, “We had, as I said, a wealth of information to go forward in our case but we found out we did not have jurisdiction and it is very disappointing because we invested all of these months, hours.”

After all that work, did Gatlinburg get the justice it deserves?

“Absolutely. Absolutely justice was served because we live on laws. We’re a nation of laws. We followed the law, the law doesn’t give us jurisdiction. So, we don’t have jurisdiction,” added General Dunn.

The case is now being handed over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I know of nothing that I would have done differently in that, I know of nothing,” said General Dunn. “Law was followed exactly. The only thing I could have done differently was to have known I didn’t have jurisdiction in the park.”

WATE asked General Dunn if the boys had been held in a Juvenile Detention Center during the entire investigation, and he directed the questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

WATE also asked if the boys showed any remorse, to which he replied, “Again, I’ll have to refer you to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

When asked about the letter General Dunn wrote regarding open record requests, he explained it is his duty to discourage law enforcement and city leaders not to give facts or statements that he cannot.

“I was doing what my rules of professional responsibility require me to do,” said General Dunn.

WATE also wanted to know if the Memorandum of Agreement will play a role in any other cases within the park. General Dunn says he knows of only one other, going forward all will have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

The DA also said unless there’s another theory or document, his office will not be able to prosecute and it will have to be dropped at a state level.

Click here for complete coverage on the Sevier County wildfires.