Bradley County Sheriff claims victory after felony charges dropped, decries 'rumor mill'
Sheriff Watson held a news conference Friday morning to discuss his case. Watch below:
Sheriff Watson got emotional during the news conference today after the DA dismissed felony charges against him, even displaying a few tears as he talked about how the case affected his family.
He pulled no punches, calling out two people in particular, County Commissioner Dan Rawls and Times Free Press writer Judy Walton.
He says those two worked together and that’s what lead to the indictment.
"Get the facts straight. Get em' straight. Print the whole truth, not just what you want to, to try and damage somebody's reputation"
But a county commissioner says the fight is not over.
We talked to Commissioner Dan Rawls. He not only says he's disappointed with the DA's decision to drop the charges, he says he's not done with Watson.
"If anyone thinks this is going to somehow quiet me, if you're in government in Bradley County, and you're doing wrong, I'm looking for you."
Rawls says he feels like there should have been a trial, and according to Watson, there still might be one, but not the same kind of trial.
Watson says because of the damage this has caused him and his family, he's weighing what his options could be in civil court.
Watson said, "The Bradley County Sheriff Department has come under some unfair attacks," and he would "defend [the Bradley County Sheriff Department] and support [them] any day, anytime."
He called the Chattanooga Times Free Press a "tabloid" and the "liberal press."
He ended the conference by telling the people of Bradley Co. to "rise up" and to not tolerate rumors.
Times Free Press Editor Alison Gerber issued this response to Watson's characterization of the paper:
"The Times Free Press stands by reporter Judy Walton's stories on Sheriff Watson and her reporting methods. The DA's report acknowledged that Watson technically violated the law, but said the office chose not to prosecute because he paid taxes on the cars he purchased. It does not contradict any of the Times Free Press investigation, published Dec. 4, 2016, eleven days before Watson paid taxes on the vehicles. In more than two year of stories about Watson, he has never contacted the Times Free Press to dispute the accuracy of the reporting or to ask for a correction."
Depend on us to bring you updates on this developing story.
Charges were dismissed against Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson by District Attorney James B. Dunn Thursday.
That came after Dunn's office verified Watson did pay taxes related to car titles from vehicles purchased out of state.
Watson faced six felony charges of forging vehicle titles. A grand jury agreed to look at the case, and charged him with a total of 12 counts in September.
The statement from Dunn says the state's case revolved around Sheriff Watson buying cars in Florida and selling them in Tennessee.
On Wednesday, Dunn says his office verified the authenticity of the records.
Dunn's release says, "After conferring with my staff and searching my own conscience, I will not proceed further with this case. Even though there may be technical violations of the law, the spirit of the law seeks to punish fraudulent conduct that deprives the State of Tennessee of its lawful taxes and fees and since Sheriff Watson rectified this failure prior to the seeking of the presentment, this case will be closed with a dismissal of the case on all counts."
Read the full ruling below:
Later on Thursday, Sheriff Watson released a statement about the case:
"I am so thankful for the words of support and encouragement for the last 18 months, when I had to face the allegations and accusations that was made against me. I have maintained my faith in the judicial system to prove my innocence.
It is the utmost importance to me that Bradley County residents know that employees at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office have consistently provided this community great law-enforcement services throughout this ordeal."
Sheriff Watson plans to hold a news conference on the case Friday morning at 9 a.m. at the Community Room of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.