Sheriff sees ‘dirty politics’ in PAC complaints over prisoners’ trip to church

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson held a news conference Thursday to denounce as “dirty politics” claims by a political action committee that he put the public in danger by taking nine state prisoners to a church in civilian clothes, apparently unguarded, reports the Times Free Press. 

The church trips are part of the sheriff’s office’s “faith-based programs” to help inmates’ lives “change for the good,” Watson said. He said the PAC, Christians for Accountable Leadership “reached the pinnacle of dirty politics when they put themselves under the banner of ‘Christian’ while either not telling the whole truth or just spreading lies.”

He said he did not dispute that the visit took place.

“As a matter of fact, we have trusties that works outside the jail almost every day,” he said. ” … Our inmates are guarded everywhere they go. Just like the church visit, the church knew they were inmates, and former inmates attended as well.”

…Watson said five officers were present at the church and there was “no reason” for why the inmates were in civilian clothing. He said they dress “according to what they’re doing.” If they are picking up litter, they wear an orange or green vest. If they are working in the garage, they wear tan uniforms. If they’re speaking to a group, they “usually wear jeans and a shirt.”

“Every church knows they’re inmates,” he said. “No one’s ever denied they wasn’t inmates.”

…Watson said the PAC invented that the sheriff’s office was trying to pass inmates as civilians while hiding its own political affiliations. He alleged the president of the PAC made campaign donations to his opponent, Steve Lawson, and presented a set of documents in support of his statement.

The documents included the committee’s registration with the Bradley County Election Commission and an itemized statement of contributions to Lawson’s campaign. The registration showed Nadine Haines as the PAC’s president, and the itemized statement showed Melanie Haines as having contributed $1,500 to Lawson’s campaign. While spokesman for Christians for Accountable Leadership Joshua Standifer said Nadine and Melanie are the same person, the documents show the contribution was made in December and the PAC was formed in February.

Additionally, Standifer said Haines and her husband, Jeffrey, contributed to and hosted “countless events” for Watson during his campaign in 2014.

“The story here is Eric Watson is misleading the public on this subject once again,” he said. “Nadine and her husband felt like they had to write some wrongs.”

Standifer characterized Haines’ decision to form the PAC as a case of “buyer’s remorse for electing a controversial figure.”

“They contributed the max amount to Steve Lawson, and when they did that, they realized they had to do more,” he said. “So they decided to form a PAC to investigate into Sheriff Watson’s controversial tenure and discover the truth and provide a voice for the citizens of Bradley County.”

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