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State v. Redden

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

March 15, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JASON ERIK REDDEN

          Assigned on Briefs January 18, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Rhea County No. 2014-CR-96 Thomas W. Graham, Judge.

         The Defendant, Jason Erik Redden, pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct, Class E felonies, in exchange for concurrent sentences of two years each. See T.C.A. §§ 39-16-402 (2014). Pursuant to the plea agreement, the trial court was to determine the manner of service and ordered him to serve his sentence in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the court erred by denying (1) judicial diversion and (2) alternative sentencing. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed.

          Howard L. Upchurch, Pikeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jason Erik Redden.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Counsel; J. Michael Taylor, District Attorney General; and David Shinn, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ. joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT H. MONTGOMERY, JR., JUDGE.

         This case arises from incidents in which money and vehicles seized by the Graysville Police Department could not be accounted for or were improperly handled. The Defendant, who was the Graysville Police Chief, pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct with an agreed-upon effective sentence of two years, with the manner of service to be determined by the trial court. The guilty plea transcript is not included in the appellate record. The judgments reflect that the Defendant pleaded guilty to Counts 2 and 7 of the indictment, which describe incidents involving $3977 in seized money and storage and towing fees for a 2009 Jeep Patriot, respectively.

         At the sentencing hearing, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Special Agent Jason Legg testified that he investigated the Defendant's case. Agent Legg said that the Defendant and another police officer seized $3977 during a traffic stop. The money could not be accounted for, and the TBI investigated the disposition of the money. Agent Legg stated that he interviewed multiple individuals during the investigation and that he listened to recordings of conversations in which the Defendant borrowed money from Robert Baldwin. Agent Legg said that the Defendant's borrowing money was related to the $3977.

         Agent Legg testified that he interviewed the Defendant, that the Defendant told him City Recorder Michelle Horton asked the Defendant for the money, that the money was in a filing cabinet at the police department, and that the money had not been placed in a safe or deposited in the police "drug fund." The Defendant said he did not want Ms. Horton to know about the money. The Defendant did not tell Agent Legg that he lost the money or that he had sought to borrow money to replace it.

         Agent Legg testified that he recovered a 1990 Ford Thunderbird, which had been seized and awarded to the City of Graysville, from Mr. Baldwin. Agent Legg stated that no record reflected that the money Mr. Baldwin paid for the Thunderbird was "turned into the city recorder, who would have deposited it into the drug fund."

         Agent Legg testified that he found a 1997 Honda Civic, which had been seized and awarded to the Graysville Police Department, at the Defendant's house. Agent Legg identified photographs of the Civic, which was "in a garage like area with a billy goat tied to the bumper[.]" Agent Legg agreed that the hood was missing. The Defendant told him that the windows leaked and that he moved the car in order to avoid its being damaged in the city lot. The Defendant also told him that the Civic was not in the same condition as when it was seized.

         On cross-examination, Agent Legg testified that his investigation involved multiple vehicles. He said that the investigation began when the district attorney's office contacted him about missing money. Agent Legg agreed that the money the Defendant borrowed from Mr. Baldwin was given to the city to replace the missing money. Agent Legg said that the Defendant immediately repaid Mr. Baldwin.

         Robert Baldwin testified that he was introduced to the Defendant by a friend and that they socialized. He said that in August 2013, the Defendant and another officer came to Mr. Baldwin's house, that the Defendant asked to borrow about $4000, and that the Defendant told him money was missing. Mr. Baldwin stated that four or five hours later, the Defendant returned the borrowed money. Mr. Baldwin said that six months before he loaned the Defendant money, he purchased a Thunderbird from the Defendant for $300 in cash and that the Defendant told him a loan company owned the car and did not want to pay storage fees for it. Mr. Baldwin stated that he did not obtain a receipt and that he had possession of the Thunderbird at the time of the hearing. Mr. Baldwin said that he did not drive the Thunderbird, that he did not have its title, and that the TBI told him not to do anything with it.

         Mr. Baldwin testified that he previously bought two guns from the Defendant. The Defendant told him that one gun belonged to the Defendant, that the other gun belonged to the city, and that the city gave the Defendant permission to "get rid of" the gun because it was not functional. Mr. Baldwin said he paid the Defendant $600 in cash and did not obtain a receipt. Mr. Baldwin stated that the TBI later confiscated the gun belonging to the Defendant and that he returned the other gun to the Graysville Police Department. Mr. Baldwin said that he had not spoken to the Defendant since he purchased the guns.

         On cross-examination, Mr. Baldwin testified that he considered the Defendant a friend, that he trusted the Defendant, that he believed the Defendant to be a truthful person, and that when the Defendant promised to do something, the Defendant did it "[m]ost of the time." Mr. Baldwin agreed that the Defendant came to his house with another officer, that the Defendant was upset, and that the Defendant told Mr. Baldwin he had misplaced some money. Mr. Baldwin agreed that the Defendant said he would give collateral to secure a loan and that the Defendant intended to use the money to replace the lost money. Mr. Baldwin said that when the Defendant returned the borrowed money, the Defendant stated he had found the lost money. Mr. Baldwin agreed the Defendant told him that the Thunderbird belonged to the police department and that the Defendant was authorized to sell it. Mr. Baldwin said that he paid the Defendant in cash because he had done so in other transactions and that he did not ask the Defendant for a receipt. Mr. Baldwin did not know what the Defendant did with the money. Mr. Baldwin said that he was aware the Defendant was "not on the best of terms" with Ms. Horton and other city officials.

         Sequatchie County Sheriff's Deputy Lee Spain testified that he previously worked as a Graysville police officer and that in April 2014, he recovered a stolen pickup truck. He said the truck, which was locked, was towed to a parking lot behind the police department. Deputy Spain stated that he photographed the truck and that the truck's keys were recovered during the execution of a search warrant. Deputy Spain denied having possession of the keys or entering the pickup truck. He said that a blue toolbox was visible on the passenger side of the truck and that one or two days after the truck was towed, the toolbox was missing. Deputy Spain stated that the Defendant took the keys to the police department and that Brian Crowe and Detective Rick Anderson conducted an inventory of the truck's contents.

         Former Graysville police officer Brian Crowe testified that he was familiar with the pickup truck Deputy Spain recovered and that the truck was locked when it arrived at the police department. Mr. Crowe said that he gave the keys to the Defendant and that Mr. Crowe and Detective Anderson later inventoried the truck's contents. Mr. Crowe stated that a toolbox in photographs of the truck was not inside the truck when they performed the inventory. Mr. Crowe said that the parking lot had a surveillance camera and that in the video recording, the Defendant left the police department, walked across the parking lot, opened the truck's passenger side door, closed the door, walked to his "take-home patrol car" carrying a toolbox, and placed the toolbox in his car. Mr. Crowe said that the Defendant did not tell him about taking the toolbox and that Mr. Crowe showed TBI agents the video recording. Mr. Crowe stated that the Defendant became aware of the TBI investigation and that the toolbox "reappear[ed]."

         On cross-examination, Mr. Crowe testified that he was in charge of inventory at the police station and that he frequented the evidence room. He said that several weeks or months after the Defendant took the toolbox, Mr. Crowe noticed it in the evidence room. Mr. Crowe said that he did not ask the Defendant about the toolbox. Mr. Crowe stated that he did not know whether the toolbox had been kept in the Defendant's police cruiser and that the police cruiser was city property.

         Samantha Redden, the Defendant's wife, testified that they had been married for ten years and that their two children and that Ms. Redden's son from a previous marriage lived with them. She said that they moved out of Graysville a month before the hearing. She stated that the Defendant did not drink alcohol or use drugs, that he had never needed mental health counseling, that their marriage was "[t]he best, " and that the Defendant was her best friend. She said that she was the Defendant's "biggest champion" and that they had never separated, although the investigation and the court proceedings had been stressful. She stated that the Defendant's health was good other than being "very stressed."

         Ms. Redden testified that their seven-year-old son had "very significant health problems" since his birth. She said that her son used a feeding tube until age six, that he had undergone three open-heart surgeries, several stomach surgeries, and other emergency surgeries, and that she anticipated his needing more surgeries to survive. She stated that the year before the hearing, her son underwent emergency surgery to repair a torn leak in his heart. Ms. Redden stated that if her son were hospitalized, he would not heal as quickly as a normal child due to inadequate blood flow. She said that her son's care was expensive.

         Ms. Redden testified that she did not work before the investigation, that she began working part time before the Defendant's termination from the Graysville Police Department, and that she worked full time as an office manager at the time of the hearing. She said that the Defendant cared for their son, which was "more than a full-time job, " and that only a certified nurse could babysit. Ms. Redden stated that they could not afford a nurse if the Defendant went to jail. She stated that neither she nor the Defendant had family in Rhea County and that the Defendant cared for the children full time. She said that the Defendant took the children to school and their son's numerous doctors' appointments and that the Defendant provided excellent care. Copies of their son's medical records were received as an exhibit.

         Ms. Redden testified that the Defendant began working at Graysville Police Department in late 2008 after their son's birth and that the Defendant maintained his position until his employment was terminated in March 2015. Ms. Redden said that the Defendant "held police work and serving his community to the highest degree, " that the Defendant spent more time helping the community and other officers than he did at home, and that as a result of his termination, "it's like a part of his soul is missing." She said,

He was extremely saddened that this took an effect on the city and on the people that he tried so hard to help. He was sad that our family had to go through this . . . [and that] he can't be there for [people who came to him for help] any more, and he just felt really sorry.

         Ms. Redden testified that the Defendant had attempted to find work and that the pending charges prevented him from obtaining employment. She said that the Defendant had been a full-time student pursuing an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice and that the Defendant would graduate within the next six months. Ms. Redden stated that because they were a single income family living "paycheck to paycheck, " she would have noticed any change in income or extra money and that she did not encounter any extra money.

         Ms. Redden testified that she did not know of any circumstances which would affect the Defendant's ability to follow the rules of probation. She agreed that his daily life was spent devoted to the children and to his education. Ms. Redden said that she had been a Graysville city commissioner before the Defendant became police chief and remained in that position until about a year after he became chief. She stated that she abstained from the commission's vote to hire the Defendant. She said that the Defendant had never previously been the head of a city department, that the Defendant requested more certification and continuing education classes, and that the city recorder told him the city's budget did not allow for additional classes.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Redden testified that she served on the Graysville city commission from 2010 until 2012. She said that when the Defendant was indicted, the city placed him on a leave of absence, that he returned to work after one or two weeks, and that he was given back pay. Ms. Redden agreed that the commission and the mayor voted to appoint police officers and that the mayor did not have the independent authority to hire and fire. She said that in 2015, the city recorder and the mayor gave the Defendant a letter of termination.

         Ms. Redden testified that her son had heart issues from early 2013 until early 2014. She admitted she was not with the Defendant all day but said that she was attentive to her bank account and that she did not see an influx of $2300 in March 2013. She stated that she and the Defendant had a joint checking account, that she would have noticed if $4000 had been removed from the account, and that no such withdrawal occurred. She stated that she began working full time in July 2015.

         Ms. Redden testified that she did not know the details of the Defendant's resignation from the Chattanooga Police Department and that the Defendant told her he "did not like some of the things that were happening within the department." She said that a person caring for her son would require "extensive training, " that she had an associate's degree in surgical technology, and that the Defendant had extensive CPR and first responder training. She stated that she and the Defendant had custody of the Defendant's two daughters from a previous marriage and that one of them left the family home when the daughter was age eighteen.

         On redirect examination, Ms. Redden testified that her father worked full time and could not assist her with childcare. Ms. Redden said that the Civic had been stored by the city before she was a commissioner, that it had been exposed to the elements and was infested with rats, that it was not drivable, and that it was in the same condition when it was towed to her house as it was in the photographs. Ms. Redden agreed that the Defendant was Peace Officer Standards Training (POST) certified. She said that the Defendant had received unemployment benefits for two months but no longer received them.

         The Defendant testified that he did not work and that primarily, he cared for his children. He said that he did not know how much longer his son would live. He said that his daughters from his first marriage lived with him and Ms. Redden during the time he was employed at the Graysville Police Department. He said that his first wife did not pay child support and that he did not request child support. He stated that after he was indicted, his seventeen-year-old daughter was threatened at school and that out of concern for her safety, he allowed her to live with her mother. The Defendant said that despite the change in custody, he and his first wife agreed he would not pay her child support.

         The Defendant testified that he was a full-time student and expected to receive his bachelor's degree in criminal justice by the end of the summer. He said that he had attempted to find work, that he needed to find work that allowed him and Ms. Redden to work opposite schedules, that he did not know anyone who could ...


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