County attorney weighs in on radio frequency issue

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An ongoing controversy between the Carter County Sheriff’s Office and the Carter County Constables Association took the center floor during Monday night’s Carter County Commission meeting at the courthouse.

A handful of the county’s constables along with their lawyer Jim Bowman were in attendance during the meeting. During the public comment portion, Bowman handed out a letter that detailed the constables’ position on Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford’s recent decision to disallow the constables to use the Sheriff’s Department’s radio frequencies, NCIS and TIES computer systems. Lunceford said that constables are only allowed to use the radio frequencies in emergencies and would regain full access when they do 40 hours of in-service at the Sheriff’s Department, had passed a background check done by the Sheriff’s Department at the department’s cost, and had a P.O.S.T. approved psychological evaluation done at the department’s cost.

In the letter, Bowman argues that Carter County owns the radio frequencies and has a say over who has access to them. In his letter, he alludes to a roughly 50-year-old case in which a Carter County Sheriff attempted to restrict Constable Jarvis Stout’s access to law enforcement radio frequencies. According to Bowman, “in an exercise of its authority over the radio frequency, the Commission voted that Stout have access to the radio frequency.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Bowman’s letter also argues that access to the radio is a must for a constable to complete their job, and not having access to a radio is a safety concern. The constables also feel that they have met all requirements in accordance to state law.

When asked about the Commission’s authority over the radio frequencies, Carter County Attorney Josh Hardin said that yes, technically, the radio frequencies is county property, but he cautioned against the commission getting involved and telling an elected department head what to do with properties under their control.

“It is not my place to tell you what you can and can’t do, and if you decided to vote on things then that is your business,” said Hardin to the Commission. “I think that the basic positions can be summed up pretty simply. They (the constables) feel that because the radio frequency is owned by Carter County that this body should vote that the constables can use the radios no matter what the sheriff says.

“Our basic position is that the county owns every piece of equipment in every office,” continued Hardin. “We don’t vote to say who can use the copier in the Register of Deeds office. We leave that up to the elected official who is over that office, just like the sheriff’s office. He runs the jail, and the county owns the guns and the cruisers, and we don’t tell the sheriff who gets to drive them or use the guns.”

During the meeting, the sheriff maintained his position that his policy pertaining to the use of radio frequencies and other systems are not directed towards the constables but is a way to control who has access to systems that he has to sign off on. He also maintained that personal information is highly available through the radio and computer systems and he feels that information should be protected. When asked by Carter County Commissioner Randall Jenkins, why did Lunceford decide to put the policy in place so quickly instead of waiting and making it a regulation for future constables who are elected, Lunceford said, “If you want to know the truth, one or more of them (current constables) have been or currently are psychiatric patients. I’m not going to let those people have access to information through the sheriff’s department until they are ready.”


Also during Monday’s meeting, the Commission voted 17-7 to approve $192,984 in matching funds for a project to construct a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the existing Carter County 911 building. $100,000 will come from the capital project reserve while $92,984 will come from the fund balance. The project has an estimated cost of $507,983.80 which will be partially funded by a $315,000 Community Block Development Grant.