D.A. on Facebook issue: It’s not overPublished 8:04am Thursday, July 3, 2014
The post was made by ADA Dennis Brooks on his personal Facebook page, and made reference to a pending case in Carter County as well as making an allegation regarding Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes. The post was later removed and Mathes has publicly denied the allegation made by Brooks on his Facebook page.
“When I learned about the post I immediately contacted Mr. Brooks and had him take it down,” Clark said. “Of course, you can’t un-ring the bell.”
Clark said that while his office does not have a specific policy addressing social media use, there is a general policy in place to refrain from discussing pending cases or investigations openly in the public.
“I didn’t have a policy saying don’t post on Facebook,” Clark said. “I have addressed that with Mr. Brooks.
“Facebook is not a place for my office, or anyone who works for me, or even myself to post their opinions or feelings on a pending case.”
Clark said the post concerned him because, whether or not the statements made by Brooks were true, the fact that he made the statement could have an impact on a pending case and reflect poorly on the District Attorney’s Office.
“We have an obligation as district attorneys and prosecutors to be fair not only to the victim but also with the defendant in a case,” Clark said. “Anything like that can have an impact on the outcome of the case. Given the nature of what we do, we must make sure everyone has a fair trial, a fair hearing, a fair plea agreement.
“We want it to be as fair as possible and this may have hindered that in this case.”
Since the incident occurred, Clark said he has spoken with his staff regarding posting comments on pending cases or investigations on social media sites. “This was a first-time occurrence and I think it will be the only time,” he said. “It will not happen again by any of my employees.”
As far as the post by Brooks, Clark said that he has spoken with Brooks and is planning further discussions with him regarding the incident.
“I have spoken to my employee and I am handling this internally,” Clark said. “It’s not over.”
Clark said he has had contact with Mathes several times since the incident. “I personally apologized to Sheriff Mathes as the district attorney,” he said.
Mathes said last week he had contacted the district attorney’s office requesting an apology regarding the matter. “I have sent a letter to the attorney general asking for a quick response and an apology,” he said. “What (Brooks) has said is untrue and unprofessional and very irresponsible on his part.”
Clark confirmed that he had received a letter from Mathes, which Clark said asked for an apology and also provided a deadline for that apology to be delivered. He said Mathes also indicated he was considering legal action or the filing of a formal complaint on the incident.
Mathes told the Elizabethton Star last week that depending on the response he received from Clark regarding the letter, he might consider legal action or a formal complaint to resolve the issue.
“If that is the action he wants to take, that is his right,” Clark said. “I know this is important to Sheriff Mathes, especially with the election coming up.”
Clark said with a threat of pending legal action over the incident, as well as the underlying pending criminal case the post referred to, his office is handling the issue delicately.
“I am not going to issue a public apology and draw even more attention to this issue,” he said, adding once again he had personally apologized to Mathes for the incident.
He said he didn’t know if Brooks had spoken to Mathes or made an apology of his own. “I’m not going to make it some ultimatum for him,” Clark said. “If he wants to do that, he needs to take it upon himself to do it.”