A high-ranking Rutherford County Sheriff's Office supervisor who was fired Wednesday perjured himself in doing background checks on top county officials amid a federal and state investigation into former Sheriff Robert Arnold, according to District Attorney Jennings Jones.
Jones confirmed Nathan Pagel, a captain over the Warrants and Records Division, checked the background of people for Arnold during the height of a probe into official corruption at the sheriff's office during 2015. Arnold is serving a federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to three charges in January in connection with an illicit e-cigarette operation at the county jail.
Pagel won't be prosecuted because the statute of limitations expired, according to Jones. But the district attorney said Pagel unlawfully used an investigative database called TLO to do the research, accessing the online portal by swearing he was abiding by its terms and conditions, when he was really working at the direction of Arnold on matters that had nothing do with law enforcement.
"My understanding is that he was attempting to look up some criminal histories of people," Jones said.
The district attorney declined to say what people Arnold wanted Pagel to check out.
Mayor Ernest Burgess, who had a disagreement with former Sheriff Arnold over budget matters shortly before the FBI and TBI started looking into JailCigs operations in 2015, said he had not spoken to Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh about Pagel.
Asked if he knew whether a criminal background check was done on him two years ago, Burgess said someone had brought it up with him but he couldn't remember who it was.
"I knew nothing about it when it happened. Somebody mentioned it after the fact. I really know nothing else. I don't know what it showed or what he got," Burges said, adding he is unconcerned about the matter.
According to information with the county's Human Resources Department, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conducted an investigation into Pagel's actions and presented the information to Jones. The district attorney researched the matter and ultimately decided not to prosecute because the violation would be classified as a misdemeanor perjury charge with a one-year statute of limitations.
"And since it occurred in 2015, it was outside that statute of limitations and we are unable to proceed on it," Jones said.
Pagel was placed on administrative leave with pay early in the week and on Wednesday asked to resign but instead was fired by the sheriff's office, according to the Human Resources Department.
If the statute of limitations had not passed, Jones would have prosecuted, according to HR, and as a result he was fired "for cause," according to HR.
Jones said he had spoken to Fitzhugh and advised him of the statute of limitations but had not sent a letter to TBI to close out the investigation.
Pagel previously served as supervisor of the Office of Professional Responsibility at the sheriff's office, a position in which he investigated cases involving potential wrongdoing by sheriff's office personnel, in addition to background checks and citizen complaints.
In January 2016, former Sheriff Arnold promoted Pagel to captain over the Warrants and Records Division, shifting him from the Office of Professional Responsibility, which also included oversight of evidence and Interstate Crime Enforcement. Pagel became an attorney in 2014.
Pagel started his law enforcement career as a volunteer reserve deputy in Maury County before taking a position as a sheriff's office park ranger there. He started working at the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office in 2003 as a patrol deputy, field training officer and domestic violence detective before becoming the office's first supervisor of the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Arnold promoted Pagel to lieutenant in 2012. A member of the Recruiting Board of the National Association of Internal Affairs, he was runner-up as Investigator of the Year in 2014, according to reports.
Pagel continued working as captain over the Warrants and Records Division after Sheriff Fitzhugh replaced Arnold in January until he was fired.