Suspended sheriff's lieutenant, son arraigned

Becky Campbell • Dec 2, 2019 at 7:13 PM

A suspended Washington County Sheriff’s deputy was arraigned Monday in Criminal Court for an incident last year for which he was accused of slapping a handcuffed man.

Lt. Eddie Graybeal Jr., 50, appeared in court Monday with his attorney, Jim Bowman. He also had numerous supporters in the audience, including his father, Sheriff Ed Graybeal Sr. The sheriff announced last month that his son had been indicted on criminal conduct charges, but also said as his father, he would stand by his son and support him through the situation.

In November, the grand jury indicted Lt. Graybeal on misdemeanor assault, and felony charges of official misconduct and oppression after video leaked in September showing Graybeal striking a handcuffed man in the face in the sally port area of the Washington County Detention Center. The slap occurred Nov. 10, 2018.

The official oppression and misconduct charges are both Class E felonies, the least-serious felony in Tennessee, and can result in a prison sentence between one and six years and a $3,000 fine. The assault charge is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

The short video — provided to the Sheriff’s Office by a local television station — appeared to be recorded from a monitor showing a body camera recording, although the Sheriff’s Office has no copy and cannot verify the source. The Johnson City Press filed a public records request for a copy of the body cam video, but Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen said the sheriff’s office also did not have the original video.

In the video, there appears to be a verbal exchange between Lt. Graybeal and the man under arrest, William H. Rawls, 30, of Rockford. Officials said Lt. Graybeal self-reported the incident the day after it happened and there was an internal investigation.

“It is definitely against our policy to use force against a handcuffed individual who is not making any threat toward you,” Laitinen said in a news conference.

She said Graybeal’s supervisor, Maj. Mark Page, reviewed Lt. Graybeal’s record — which she described as “stellar” — and found no previous allegations of misconduct against him. A Press review of his personnel file also did not find any allegations of previous misconduct. After the internal review, he was given a written reprimand and was instructed to review the department’s use of force policy.

The case is currently assigned to Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice, but there has been no move at this point to recuse her from hearing the matter. District Attorney General Ken Baldwin, however, recused his office from the beginning and it was assigned to District Attorney General Dave Clark (7th Judicial District). He requested the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conduct a criminal investigation after being appointed as the special prosecutor.

Under state law, public servants commit official oppression when they knowingly mistreat someone or violate someone’s rights while acting as public officers. Official misconduct occurs when a public servant intending to harm someone intentionally commits unauthorized exercises of power, exceeds official power, violate laws related to their offices or employment or receive benefits not allowed by law.

Lt. Graybeal’s next court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26 for a plea deadline. He is free on a $3,000 bond while the case is pending.