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MJ investigation focusing on "connections"
Oct 28, 2004 12:00 am
An investigation probing how a well-connected Mt. Juliet man managed to avoid a local arrest is focusing on "connections" and "relationships," an official says.
"It's still in progress, but it's a little complicated," District Attorney General Tommy Thompson said of the inquiry, which began with complaints that the man was warned of his pending arrest by City Manager Rob Shearer, described as a friend of the suspect.
The suspect, Michael Richardson, 46, surrendered to Wyoming authorities six days after Mt. Juliet police arrived at his Mooreland Farms home to arrest him on a felony warrant charging him with practicing dentistry without a license.
Though some officers felt otherwise, Shearer and Police Chief Kenneth Martin have maintained Richardson did not receive preferential treatment, claiming non-violent offenders are often given the chance to surrender rather than face arrest.
Shearer has said he warned Richardson of his imminent arrest only after being given the go-ahead by Martin, who for his part has maintained he did not feel "pressured" by the city manager because of his friendship with the suspect.
Sheriff Terry Ashe called for an investigation after he said he was contacted by Wyoming authorities complaining about problems in having Richardson arrested. Two Mt. Juliet officers have also given official statements in which they indicated they felt Richardson received preferential treatment.
Thompson said investigators are still probing the exact nature of the relationship between Shearer and Richardson, who has three previous convictions on similar charges in three different states, including Tennessee.
"Right now we're still determining the relationships and the connections," Thompson said. "I haven't made any judgments about the situation at all, we're still trying to determine just exactly what happened."
He noted that although Richardson ended up in the hands of Wyoming authorities, several unanswered questions remain in Mt. Juliet.
"It looks like it turned it OK, with him surrendering, but I'm concerned about what looks like all the history here, all the relationships and connections and when and how everything was done," Thompson said.
The incident has created something of a furor in Mt. Juliet, where city commission and mayoral elections are underway.
Outgoing Mayor Kevin Mack – who is not seeking re-election – fired off a blistering public letter blaming Ashe and City Commissioner Ray Justice for much of the controversy.
Justice is also a sheriff's department officer who found himself embroiled in another police related controversy earlier this year when he questioned the MJPD's policy on DUI arrests.
Justice's remarks about declining to file drunken driving charges against an officer's fiancee were secretly tape recorded by Martin, leading to criticisms of Justice as well as the WCSD.
Mack, in his strongly worded letter, said Ashe and Justice were behind the complaints that Richardson received preferential treatment.
Mack, who defended the decision allowing Richardson to avoid arrest, said when contacted about the letter the fact Richardson was facing a felony charge should not have been a factor in how the case was handled.
"I don't think we need to get too wrapped up in the term felony," the mayor said.
Thompson, however, had a far different opinion when asked about the term.
"That's about as disturbing as anything about this whole situation," he said. "There seems to be people who want to minimize this, but a felony is a felony. When you're sworn to uphold the law, you don't get to pick and choose which laws to enforce."
Shearer has said that while he was unaware of his friend's three previous convictions it would not have changed the decision to allow Richardson to turn himself into Wyoming authorities rather than be arrested in Mt. Juliet.
Richardson's attorney, Gary Vandever, has repeatedly maintained his client did nothing wrong. He has portrayed Richardson as a leader in a movement to allow non-dentists to manufacture and sell dentures.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at email@example.com.