Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A History of Sheriff Robert Arnold

NOTE: this list will be updated periodically as new information comes to light. This is a very fluid situation and will require continued attention. For additional updates, please visit the Tennesseans Against Corruption Facebook page on the matter.

2014 Re-election Campaign Logo and photo.

Sheriff Arnold was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Even before being elected, scandal and controversy has followed the Sheriff, but ever since 2013, the spotlight on Sheriff Arnold's department has been growing in intensity, especially after the county received national attention from the July 4th DUI checkpoint video. Recently, we have come to see just how deep the problems go. 

His 2014 campaign slogan was "Fair, Open, Honest, and Accountable". With that, he won re-election with a slim majority of voters. As we are now learning even more, "honest and accountable" is sounding a lot like Obama's "most transparent administration in history." 

I (Jacob Bogle), along with many other concerned citizens, would like to ask Sheriff Arnold to resign from office and spare the 280,000 citizens of Rutherford County any more embarrassment. I would also urge the County Commission to do their duty by taking the ethics complaint against Sheriff Arnold seriously and take appropriate action. 

What follows are years' worth of evidence that calls strongly into question his capacity to represent us. The sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in the county. If he doesn't uphold the law and act with utmost integrity, how can we trust him to keep us safe? What example has Sheriff Arnold set? 

In 2009, prior to being elected, Sheriff Arnold (then a School Resource Officer) was disciplined for the way he handled a student's possession of a firearm at LaVergne High School. Arnold failed to investigate the matter, leaving the school and those there at great risk. At the time, Sheriff Truman Jones, demoted Arnold and transferred him to the detention center. As a result, Arnold lost $22,000-$25,000/yr in salary and other compensation. Sheriff Jones said, "it was the least that could have been done to him." In November of 2009, the depositions relating to the case were sealed thanks to murky reasoning, in part, because they could be "embarrassing." 

As sheriff in 2011, Sheriff Arnold wrote a character letter on behalf of family member Chris Rowland. The catch? Rowland was a convicted felon. Rowland was sentenced to two years in prison for five counts of money laundering (a reduced sentence after a plea bargain). According to the Murfreesboro Post:

"Rowland was arrested and charged with possession of a machine gun and possession of an unregistered firearm, a Rock River Arms .223-caliber machine gun and failing to register it.

Federal agents raided Rowland’s home and brother-in-law Jeremy Chad Smotherman’s home in September 2007 on Warrior Drive across from Riverdale High School as part of an investigation stemming from a $6 million illegal narcotics operation.

In court documents filed in 2008, Internal Revenue Service Agent William Desantis accused Rowland and Smotherman of money laundering as “sham owners” of real estate and engaging in large money transactions with defendants indicted in a $6 million narcotics operation."

Even though Rowland apologized for his wrong doing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold McDonough of Nashville said, "I can’t reconcile why the chief law enforcement official would write a letter on behalf of a convicted felon". It's also curious that Rowland's family donated $1,000 to Arnold's campaign. 

In Feb. 2012, Deputy James Vanderveer resigned from office after being arrested for driving under the influence. Vanderveer, Arnold's nephew, was later re-hired by Sheriff Arnold. A year later, two additional Sheriff's deputies resigned after being arrested for DUIs. Vadnerveer was also arrested and charged with minor possession in Georgia in March 2010. Much more on Vanderveer to come.

On July 4, 2013, local resident Chris Kalbaugh went through a routine DUI checkpoint. These checkpoints are governed by very specific laws and drivers are only required to roll their windows down far enough so that the officer can both see and smell any signs of alcohol. Sheriff's deputy, A. J. Ross, became incredibly angry that Kalbaugh didn't roll his window all the way down (despite not being required to), and Ross later forcibly searched Kalbaughs car without consent. Ross then sent for a police drug dog to come and search the vehicle (something that can only be done with probable cause, for which there was none). According to the officer, the dog gave a sign that it found drugs in Kalbaugh's car and Officer Ross said he indeed found bits of marijuana. Yet, upon this, he let Kalbaugh drive away without any charges or arrest. 

That fact alone tells me Officer Ross was either lying to help cover up his horrible management of the situation, or was actually abandoning his duties by not following the law and arresting someone with illegal drugs. Sheriff Arnold was a stalwart supporter of Deputy Ross. When I questioned Ross' behavior (specifically why Ross didn't apprehend Kalbaugh after allegedly finding drugs) during a public Q & A with Sheriff Arnold, Arnold tried to dodged the question and then, in essence, said it was busy night and since it wasn't a large amount of drugs, Ross did the right thing by letting Kalbaugh go. 

You can find the original six minute YouTube video here. It has been seen over 5 million times.

Deputy Ross also has an incredibly complicated past, from leaving the department in 2004 to lying about having insurance when he crashed into someone. Yet, he is still supported by Sheriff Arnold.

In December 2014, James Vanderveer made his way back into the news. After restraining inmate Demario N. Harris to a chair in what's called a "4-point restraint," Officer Vanderveer proceeded to pepper spray Harris. Harris, who, again, was fully restrained, was not being combative. Yet, Vanderveer pepper sprayed him for an extended period of time and did not offer Harris the chance to wash out his eyes. Harris is now seeking $300,000 in damages. Sheriff Arnold "reprimanded" Vanderveer, but he is still an employee of the RCSO. Once again, Sheriff Arnold seems to be looking out for his family and buddies, despite their continual appalling behavior.

You can find the video of that incident here.

During Arnold's re-election run, two members of the department filed papers to run against him. Both men, Ralph Mayercik and Jim Tramel, were then the subject of "coincidental" investigations and had to resign from their jobs. Jim Tramel filed suit against the Sheriff's Office and eventually won the case, receiving $250,000.

Under Sheriff Arnold's policy of "good ole boy" administrating, Rutherford County tax payers have already had to pay $250,000 and are on the hook for additional thousands. 

Additionally, during the election, Arnold's campaign manager and Sheriff's Office Chief Administrator, Joe Russell, proceeded to buy various Internet domain names to prevent Arnold's competitors (namely Maj. Bill Kennedy and Capt. Mike Fitzhugh) from being able to use them. Russell also happens to be the husband of Nicole Lester, who was the Rutherford County Administrator of Elections at the time.

Republican candidate Fitzhugh said of the matter, "My take on it was the type of people they are, it was typical. It didn't surprise me."

In March 2015, Sheriff Arnold decided to ignore procedure and bypass the County Commission by going straight to the state in an attempt to take full control over the county workhouse. Sen Bill Ketron was asked to carry the bill and refused saying, "I have the utmost respect for the county commission, having served there for eight years, and I think it was a cheap shot that we introduced it without talking to them first. We blindsided them." The County Commission's Steering Committee later voted 7-0 against merging the workhouse with the jail. Commissioner Petus Read said, "this is somewhat of a power play, when you try to step beyond the mayor without going to the County Commission, I can't see where it's anything but a power play."

All of this brings us to the latest in a long line of bad choices made by Sheriff Arnold.

Arnold's wife and the RCSO chief administrator has connections to a company called "JailCigs" which provides electronic cigarettes to jails. His wife, Megan, holds stock in the company and Arnold has listed it as a source of income. The Georgia-based company is owned by family, uncle and aunt John and Judy Vanderveer. RCSO Chief Administrator, Joe Russell, is also listed as a founding owner of JailCigs LLC, as well as Jail Snacks LLC (another Georgia-based company).

Lisa Nolan, County Finance Director, has said that she hasn't seen any invoices relating to JailCigs; meaning that any income the jail gets from selling them isn't being properly reported. Arnold has said he sees no conflict of interest in the matter.

On April 16, 2015, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced it was looking into the issue after receiving a request from District Attorney Jennings Jones. On April 17, the County Commission Ethics Committee received an official ethics complaint against Sheriff Arnold as well. The Ethics Committee has scheduled a meeting to discuss the matter for April 23 at 4 pm. The meeting will be at the Rutherford County Courthouse.

Additionally, it was revealed on April 21, that Arnold received campaign contributions from many of the same companies the RCSO has contracted with. Some of these groups are, the Keefe Group, City Tele Coin Company, and a political action committee which happens to be controlled by none other than Joe Russell, Arnold's long time acolyte. The Keefe Group donated $500 in 2012 and Keefe Commissary donated $500 in 2013. Two months after receiving the donation from the Keefe Group, Arnold amended a contract with Keefe Commissary, which, according to the Daily News Journal:

"The contract amendment gives Keefe permission to maintain and supply the Sheriff's Office with computer equipment and software to expand the Detention Center's video-visitation system. The amendment is worth "a prorated amount" of $215,106 and is good through Jan. 1, 2018.

According to the contract, the Sheriff's Office is paid a service fee associated with sales of noncommissioned and commissary items. It also establishes an agreement with Keefe to create a website through which families and friends of inmates can order commissary items.

The contract also states the Sheriff's Office's cut of sales are deposited in a technology fund for the video-visitation expansion that allows visitors to interact with inmates from a closed-circuit television."

Rutherford County Mayor, Ernest Burgess, said he was unaware of the amendment or technology fund.

In 2012, Arnold signed a contract with City Tele to provide jail pay-phone services. The owner of City Tele donated $1,500 to Arnold's re-election campaign in 2013.

Joe Russell, RCSO Chief Administrator and Arnold's former campaign manager, was hired by Arnold in 2010. Russell is also the head of the Rutherford County Tea Party PAC, which received $500 in donations from Arnold's campaign in July 2012. In 2013, the PAC donated $400 to Arnold. Russell further donated $3,000 personally to Arnold's campaign.

The Sheriff's Office is also the center of several other issues. There's a JailCig-like computer tablet contract that was not approved by the County Commission. He also allowed a private company to run their own training business out of the Sheriff's Office. There are questions surrounding ammunition purchases by deputies. And, remaining questions over Arnold admitting he watched a man burn to death because, according to Arnold, the uniform might have been flammable (which seems dubious at best), or the silly confiscation of kids' wrestling equipment in 2010.

Again, I implore Sheriff Arnold to do the right thing and resign. He has protected family members after they broke the law and tortured inmates. He sees no conflict of interest over the JailCigs situation. His campaign engaged in unethical tactics and used his office to bully opponents. If he will not uphold the law, he does not deserve to be sheriff.

For continual updates, please take the time to visit: https://www.facebook.com/OustSheriffArnold

Originally published on April 21, 2015 by Jacob Bogle.


  1. Interesting about the sheriff. I was just googling his name and 'attention seeking' since he thinks a Super Bowl dance routine has made him a target in 2016.

  2. He was well known by students at Daniel McKee for inappropriate behavior towards them with his gun. How ironic if he ends up an inmate with the very adults he once abused as children