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Tazewell and New Tazewell Tennessee officers found NOT to have violated the Hatch Act

From WRIL -

On April 26, 2022 it was reported by the website Tennessee Lookout that: “Two East Tennessee police chiefs and a police lieutenant are facing complaints they violated federal law when using departmental letterhead to endorse a judicial candidate and posing in uniform alongside the candidate for endorsement photographs.”

In the story it was also stated that those involved were Tazewell Police Department Chief Jeremy Myers, New Tazewell Police Department Chief Ben Evans, and New Tazewell Lt. Gary Ruszhowski.

The officers were accused of violating the U.S. Hatch Act, which is a 1939 law governing political activities by employees of agencies supported by federal tax dollars.

In question was the alleged behavior by the officers, in their official authority or influence, to endorse candidate Graham Wilson for Criminal Court Judge in Tennessee’s Eighth Judicial District race. The men, dressed in their uniforms, took pictures with the candidate which were then posted to Wilson’s campaign website and social media. This included the use of their official stationary used to endorse Wilson.

In charge of the investigation into the claims against the men was Erica S. Hamrick, Deputy Chief of the Hatch Act Unit from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington, DC.

WRIL acquired the final decision on the matter in which Ms. Hamrick states that, “even if true, OSC has concluded that this alleged activity does not violate the Hatch Act, and we are closing our file in this matter without further action.”

The letter also states that the Hatch Act’s legislative history and relevant case law demonstrate that the Act is applicable only to partisan activity. Because all three candidates who qualified for the election of Criminal Court Judge in the Eighth Judicial District officially filed as independent candidates and were not nominated by a political party, OSC has confirmed that the election in question is nonpartisan.

Graham Wilson, along with candidates Zachary Walden and Thomas Tabor Jr., are all battling for the 8th Judicial District Criminal Court after current Judge Shayne Sexton retires later in the year.

WRIL attempted to find out who filed the initial complaint, but we haven't heard back from the attorney representing the OSC yet.

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