2014 sheriff’s race: Inside the personnel files

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Current Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold and sheriff candidates Bill Kennedy, Dale Armour and Jim Tramel

Democratic sheriff candidate Bill Kennedy received a short suspension and reprimand this year at the Lebanon Police Department, but he’s not the only one running for Rutherford County sheriff who’s been disciplined on the job – including Sheriff Robert Arnold.

The sheriff’s office meted out numerous disciplinary actions against Arnold over a decade before he defeated longtime Democratic Sheriff Truman Jones in 2010. He was demoted from school resource officer to jailer in 2009 and ultimately reassigned to the Rutherford County Correction Work Center for campaigning on the job, according to his personnel file, which was inspected at the sheriff’s office.
Arnold, who started with the sheriff’s office in 1999:

• Was given a verbal reprimand in May 2000 after he was observed in the “laying down position with his feet up on a cabinet and appeared to be sleeping” while working in the detention center. Asked about the incidents recently, Arnold said he was not asleep but was watching the jail cameras.

• Received a written reprimand in April 2002 for abandoning his post in the jail. The sheriff said he was relieved by the next shift but was not cleared by central control.

• Was cited for insubordination in May 2001 after he was told three times to take his phone to his car. Arnold said he takes responsibility for that action.

• Was cited in June 2001 for dereliction of duty for being late to work, for which he showed a “consistent pattern.” In January 2003, he received a two-day suspension without pay for being late to work after previous reprimands and a suspension. Arnold said he takes responsibility for those actions.

• In January 2009, Arnold failed to investigate a report of a weapon La Vergne High School while he was the school resource officer there and failed to notify his supervising officer in a timely manner, according to his file. Supervisors determined “that failure to investigate put many people at risk and that serious action should be taken,” according to information in his personnel file. Kennedy, who was major over the SRO division at the time, recommended Arnold be fired. But former Sheriff Jones decided that he should be transferred to the jail because of the economy and concern for financial support Arnold’s wife and newborn child.

In response last week, Arnold said the 2009 incident happened during night school at La Vergne High and no internal investigation was made. The only appeal was to the sheriff.

“I did everything I was supposed to do. The night school was a separate entity. I notified Principal Melvin Daniels, who said he would take the information to the night school principal,” Arnold stated.

• Arnold was later transferred to the work center for campaigning on the job, then while at that location received a verbal correction after his campaign literature was found on the ground. Arnold wrote in a response that it must have fallen out of his truck and that he did not intend for the cards to get out of his truck.

The sheriff said last week there is no county policy against campaigning on duty or campaigning on county property. The work center report stated that he lost campaign literature.

The sheriff noted that during six years as a patrol deputy he did not have any disciplinary issues. As sheriff, he created the Office of Professional Responsibility, which checks into allegations of misconduct, and the Disciplinary Review Board, which allows employees to appeal disciplinary action and make a case in an effort to get a fair hearing. That panel makes a recommendation to the sheriff.

Kennedy’s file
When Arnold was elected in 2010, he offered Kennedy a job as a jailer. Kennedy declined the position and resigned from the sheriff’s office, before taking an officer’s job at Lebanon Police Department.

Kennedy’s personnel file with Rutherford County showed no disciplinary action over some 18 years. In Lebanon, he was placed on administration leave, before being given a written reprimand and a one-day suspension this April for violating department policy.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found no criminal wrongdoing by Kennedy after a Thorntons convenience store clerk filed a complaint March 18 for inappropriate conduct on duty, according to records in his personnel file. During the investigation, Kennedy admitted leaving his patrol zone without a supervisor’s permission and staying at Thorntons, outside his patrol zone for an hour and 15 minutes. He also failed to check out as required and admitted to allowing a female – another clerk at Thorntons – to ride in his patrol car.

It marked the first disciplinary action against Kennedy in 23 years in law enforcement.

In 1995 he received an NASRO Officer of the Year Presidential Citation for identifying three Laotian gang members who came onto the Oakland High campus and were wanted for murder and arson in Memphis.

A year later, he was named Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department Officer of the Year. In 2000, under his leadership the Rutherford County School Resource Officer program was named the nation’s best.

Dale Armour’s record
An independent candidate in the sheriff’s race, Armour worked for Murfreesboro Police Department from 1979 to 1986, where he went through a myriad of training before taking a job with Tennessee Highway Patrol and then the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

His personnel file with MPD shows no disciplinary action. And he says his record with the state is clean. Even an incident in which he pulled over a woman who nearly ran him off the road on Thompson Lane is not part of his TBI file.

Armour was the so-called “imposter” TBI agent who stopped a woman on Thompson Lane in 2012. The woman told TV interviewers he cussed her out, though he contends her initial complaint did not state that he cursed her.

TBI issued a statement that the woman was pulled over by an “imposter.” Armour said he notified TBI’s public information officers that he was the one who made the traffic stop, and he contends they didn’t bother asking him about the matter before saying publicly it was an “imposter.”

The incident went “viral” and became a disaster, Armour admits. When he completed FBI training, he left the TBI for an FBI Violent Crimes Task Force and is taking an extended vacation to run for sheriff.

“I’m not running from that story,” Armour said last week. “I was trying to protect the public that night.” He thought the woman was drunk at first but realized she wasn’t when he stopped her.

The only thing he was guilty of was failing to notify MPD that he made a traffic stop, he said.

Jim Tramel’s record
Former Rutherford County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Tramel, an independent candidate in the Aug. 7 election, was fired from the sheriff’s office in June 2013, not long after he said he was going to run for election to the sheriff’s post.

In 2001, Tramel was reassigned from the from the SRO division to patrol for undermining the division “by going outside the department and discussing official business,” according to his personnel file.

He later became a detective and investigated numerous high-profile cases.

Last June, though, Tramel was accused of violating the department’s sexual harassment policy by repeating rumors of a sexual nature about women who worked at the sheriff’s office.

Tramel was approached by Capt. David Hailey, who said he heard that Tramel was not being a team player in the detective division. Tramel responded by saying he’d heard rumors about Hailey having a sexual relationship with a female sheriff’s office employee.

The former detective said he thought the matter ended there, but supervisors pursued it and he wound up being fired, about three weeks after Sheriff Arnold told him if he ran for office he would be reassigned. Tramel filed suit in federal court against the sheriff and Rutherford County, and the matter remains in litigation.

“It was all politically motivated,” Tramel said, pointing out that no internal investigation was ever done into the allegations he made or into his firing. He denied the sheriff’s office accusations against him.

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bill kennedy, dale armour, jim tramel, personnel files, race, robert arnold, sheriff
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