NEWPORT-After a day-long session on Tuesday, the Cocke
County Grand Jury submitted a list of 11 recommendations for improvements to
the Cocke County Courthouse and jail and for increases in pay for law
The grand jury's meeting this week came after its January
session to consider criminal indictments, after which Circuit Judge Ben W.
Hooper II gave the panel a package of previous grand jury recommendations
dating back to 1993. Judge Hooper encouraged grand jurors to meet and consider
updates and revisions to those previous recommendations.
The report was submitted on Tuesday afternoon. Judge
Hooper said on Wednesday that he was pleased with the grand jury's work,
calling the report "one of the most positive things in the recent history
of Cocke County."
The panel's recommendations run from relatively
inexpensive suggestions such as installing a defibrillator in the courthouse
and replacing broken glass panes in the building to more big-ticket items such
as financing for the construction of a new justice center for Cocke County. The
report also recommends increasing the salaries of road officers and jailers in
the sheriff's department.
Grand jurors instructed Circuit Court Clerk Peggy Lane to
present copies of its report to Cocke County Sheriff Claude Strange, District
Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, Cocke County Mayor Iliff McMahan, Newport Mayor
Connie Ball, Chief of Police Maurice Shults, county finance officials, and the
chairmen of the Newport Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the county legislative
Those officials were instructed to report to the grand
jury at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 17, "to give a status report as to what
progress has been made pertaining to these recommendations."
All of the recommendations are aimed at improving the
facilities available to local justice system officials and the safety of
officials and the public in the courthouse and jail.
Here, in the order in which they were submitted, is a
list of the grand jury's recommendations.
¥ First, the panel recommended that a defibrillator be
installed in the Cocke County Courthouse and that "one to two employees of
the county be specifically trained to use this device, or that the county jail
nurse be on call at all times."
This recommendation comes in the wake of the January 26
death of the father of a murder victim after a hearing in criminal court. After
the man collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack.
¥ The grand jury further recommended that "the metal
detectors be used immediately and at all times during court proceedings and
county commission meetings. Training and personnel for safety precautions will
be left to the discretion of the sheriff."
Currently, hand-held metal-detection wands are used to
screen spectators if necessary, and there have been no serious problems with
anyone trying to bring in a weapon.
But the county has two full-sized metal detectors on the
second floor of the courthouse which are standing unused because the sheriff's
department has no funds to provide the minimum of two workers needed to operate
¥ Grand jurors recommended that all prisoners being
brought into the courtrooms "stay shackled and handcuffed at all times
except when standing for plea or judgment with their counsel in front of the
The general practice currently in use is to bring inmates
in small groups into the courtroom in handcuffs, but to remove the shackles
when the defendants are placed in the jury box to wait.
¥ The panel "highly recommend[ed] that our county
litter crew and courthouse [trusties] be made up solely of defendants that are
currently serving community service or are on probation only. We believe that
by leaving inmates incarcerated [will] hopefully diminish the amount of
contraband coming into our jails."
This is an issue that was raised by Judge Hooper and by
some grand jurors during a meeting with jail officials in January.
Under current practice, inmates are sometimes released
from jail on work-release, as jail trusties to clean the county courthouse and
other duties, and for court appearances, but as many as 14 inmates, in two
crews of seven inmates, may be taken from the jail under supervision to pick up
litter along local roadways.
Litter crew supervisors say the inmates are strictly
supervised and their routes are kept confidential to minimize contact with
other people who might pass drugs or any form of contraband to them.
State inspectors have instructed jail officials not to
allow inmates with felony charges and pending cases, who might be escape risks,
and inmates with previous escape charges to be released on the "can
¥ Grand jurors recommended "the renovation of the
[small] bailiff's office/judge's chambers [between the circuit court clerk's
office and the criminal courtroom], specifically the flooring."
¥ Concerning the salaries of beginning deputies and
jailers, the grand jury recommended increases to bring them in line with the
salaries of similar employees in neighboring counties.
According to the grand jury's figures, the starting
salary of a "road officer" in the Cocke County Sheriff's Department
is $19,900 per year. That compares to $25,084 in Sevier County, $25,680 in
Jefferson County, and $24,500 in Grainger County, for an average salary of
$23,791 in the area.
For jailers, Cocke County's starting pay is $17,900 per
year, compared to $22,803 in Sevier County, $21,960 in Jefferson County, and
$22,800 in Grainger County, an average of $21,366.
Based on those figures, the grand jury recommends that
Cocke County increase the starting salary of a beginning deputy by at least
$3,891 (to $23,791) and for jailers by at least $3,733 (to $21,633).
¥ To "deter the introduction of contraband into our
jails," the grand jury recommended replacing any broken panes of glass in
the courthouse and suggested that the windows of the third-floor jail be
covered with small mesh screens.
¥ Grand jurors also recommended the "enforcement of
a mandatory vehicle seizure after a defendant's fourth DUI conviction,
regardless of vehicle ownership."
¥ County officials were also encouraged to move ahead
"with plans for a new justice center that include[s] judicial
facilities," a measure that would require the county to borrow several
million dollars to acquire a site, design plans, and construct the facility.
¥ The panel recommended that "one additional officer
from the City of Newport be [assigned] to the Fourth Judicial District Drug
¥ Finally, the grand jury recommended that probation and
parole department officials distribute and collect pens and pencils to inmates
who are required to complete registration and other forms
"individually...not as a group," a measure designed to increase