Pubdate: Mon, 20 Dec 2004
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2004 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Scott Barker
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


LOUDON -- Two Loudon County Sheriff's Department deputies pleaded
innocent to extortion charges today in Criminal Court.

Also, 9th District Attorney General Scott McCluen is recusing himself
from prosecuting Chief Deputy Tony Aikens, 46, and Deputy Paul E. Curtis,

It was announced before Judge E. Eugene Eblen that McCluen was
stepping down.

McCluen said last week that he would seek a special prosecutor outside
his office to handle the case.

More than 200 people, including a host of uniformed deputies, crowded
the second-floor courtroom in the Loudon County Courthouse.

Aikens and Curtis were indicted Dec. 14 on charges of coercing Eddie
W. Witt of Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., into giving $9,649.25 to the Sheriff's
Department's drug fund in 2002.

At a press conference Dec. 15, Aikens accused McCluen of bringing a
"politically motivated" case, even though the Tennessee Bureau of
Investigation had examined the incident and found no wrongdoing.

"I had dealt with this case for many months, and it was not on the
roster of cases we had prepared to present to the grand jury," McCluen
told the News Sentinel last week.

Aikens and Curtis are not accused of taking the money for their own
use. The money was deposited in the drug fund, which is used to fund
police antidrug operations.

Witt, 54, listed as Eddie Whitt in Loudon County Sheriff's Department
records, subsequently filed a civil lawsuit to get the money returned.
Loudon County never filed an answer to the suit but settled the case
by returning Witt's money and paying his legal fees.

"It is never wise to jump the gun and draw conclusions without knowing
all of the facts," McCluen said of Aikens' accusation. "(Aikens and
Curtis) are innocent in my eyes until proven guilty. This is clearly
not politically motivated. I do not operate with that in mind, ever."

McCluen said the indictment came about because Witt's attorney, Jes
Beard of Chattanooga, "called last week, spoke to our witness and
victim coordinators and requested an opportunity for his client to
appear before the grand jury. I am not about to deny citizen access to
a grand jury if they want to speak to them."

Previously, the grand jury had reviewed some information about the
case, but "we never presented it to the grand jury for indictment,"
McCluen added. The grand jury heard the presentation, "and requested
that I draw an indictment, which I did," McCluen said.

He said he has the option to nolle pros the case, or dismiss it, but
"out of respect for the action of the grand jury" will not do so. He
will let it be decided in court.

Aikens' attorney, Scott Jones, described McCluen's account as
"disingenuous," and said he still believes the case is politically

"I don't think Scott McCluen can divorce himself from all of this by
saying, 'Oh, I just signed off on a document,' " Jones said. "The
reality is that the grand jury acts as a functionary of the attorney
general's office. For all intents and purposes, the DA controls what
is presented to a grand jury and acts as a filtering agent. Otherwise
you would have every Tom, Dick and Harry taking something to the grand

Beard told the News Sentinel that he called McCluen's office after
much time had passed and no action was taken against Aikens and Curtis.

"(McCluen) made it clear he was just getting out of our way and
letting us present our case," Beard said. "He could have made (it
difficult for us) if he had wanted too."

"My goal and Eddie's goal, was to get (Aikens and Curtis) criminally
charged," Beard said. "I want to see them in prison, and so does
Eddie. We would also like to see the law changed. The forfeiture and
seizure laws not only allow law enforcement to shake folks down, they
encourage it, and it is perfectly legal."

Money or property suspected of being tied to the drug trade can be
seized and held, pending a Tennessee Department of Safety Hearing. A
seizure may be avoided by settlement, also subject to Safety
Department approval. A settlement does not prevent or require officers
to file criminal charges. The agencies may keep the property even if
they never file a charge.

On June 20, 2002, Curtis stopped Witt for a traffic violation. A
handgun, a switchblade knife and a bank bag containing $19,649.25 were
in the car. A drug dog "alerted" on the car, but no drugs were found.

Witt was charged with several traffic and weapons offenses, which are
still pending in court. The next day, according to Aikens, Witt
initiated an offer by which his car and $10,000 of the money would not
be seized in exchange for the balance of the cash going into the drug
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