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UPDATE: WCSO will 'fully cooperate' with special prosecutor's investigation

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Sep 19, 2019 at 7:16 PM

UPDATE:

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said it will “fully cooperate” with the special prosecutor assigned to investigate a sheriff’s deputy shown on video striking a handcuffed man in the face in November.

“The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has the utmost respect for (1st Judicial District Attorney) General (Ken) Baldwin and we will fully cooperate with the special prosecutor assigned to review this matter,” Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen told the Johnson City Press in a statement.

The move to appoint a special prosecutor comes after a video was provided to the sheriff’s office by a local television station and reported on by the Press on Monday. A copy of the video was not available, as Laitinen says the sheriff’s office only retains body camera video for 60 days due to storage space.

She also said attempts to recover the video were unsuccessful.

In a news conference Monday, Laitinen said Lt. Edwin “Eddie” Graybeal’s — son of Sheriff Ed Graybeal — slapping of a handcuffed Wlliam H. Rawls, 30, was “definitely against our policy” but the department was “certain that this incident wouldn’t happen again.”

The Press reviewed Edwin Graybeal’s personnel file and found no indications of previous misconduct.

The incident, which occurred in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 2018, was not sent to an outside investigator because there “weren’t any questions as to what happened.”

On Thursday, however, Baldwin said in a news release that he has “requested the Nashville District Attorney’s General Conference to appoint a special prosecutor to review this matter.” On Monday, Laitinen said the sheriff’s office “made the punishment we felt was necessary at the time,” and that Edwin Graybeal would not face any additional discipline from the department.

“It is my job as Chief Law Enforcement Officer and District Attorney to insure to the citizens of the First Judicial District that this matter have the same prosecutorial review as would occur regardless of whether a police officer is involved,” Baldwin said in the release. “The special prosecutor will decide the issues of investigation of the matter, the nature of any criminal charges and further be responsible for the resolution of any charges.

Asked during Monday’s press conference if the slap could be defined as assault, Laitinen said “it is” before adding “it could be, but we felt it didn’t rise to the level that warranted causing a 24-year veteran to lose his job and career.”

Baldwin’s office said the appointment of a special prosecutor will ensure that the investigation “is handled by a prosecutor who has no personal stake in the investigation, potential charges and any resolution of those charges.”

Lt. Graybeal was not initially charged as a result of the incident, receiving instead a “letter of counseling,” and was made to review the department’s use-of-force guidelines. Laitinen also said that had Graybeal caused “serious bodily injury” to Rawls, then the department would’ve “taken more serious disciplinary action.”

Previously reported at 3:12 p.m.

A special prosecutor’s investigation has been launched into a Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy’s conduct with a handcuffed man last November, 1st Judicial District Attorney General Ken Baldwin announced Thursday in a news release.

“I must start with the premise that no person is above the law,” Baldwin said in a news release. “The District Attorney's Office works closely with law enforcement in all counties including the Washington County Sheriffs Department on a daily basis.

“To avoid the appearance of any impropriety and to insure equal treatment, I have requested that the Nashville District Attorney's General Conference appoint a special prosecutor to review this matter.”

On Monday, the Sheriff’s Office acknowledged Lt. Edwin “Eddie” Graybeal — Sheriff Ed Graybeal’s son — had struck a handcuffed man inside the county’s Detention Center in November, but no charges were placed against the officer. After reporting his actions to his supervising officer, the younger Graybeal was issued a letter of counseling.

The Nov. 10, 2018, situation was caught on video, showing Eddie Graybeal striking a handcuffed man in the face with an open hand as the man is getting out of a squad car in the sally port area of the detention center.

“It is my job as Chief Law Enforcement Officer and District Attorney to insure to the citizens of the First Judicial District that this matter have the same prosecutorial review as would occur regardless of whether a police officer is involved,” Baldwin continued in the release. “The special prosecutor will decide the issues of investigation of the matter, the nature of any criminal charges and further be responsible for the resolution of any charges.

“This will insure that the matter is handled by a prosecutor who has no personal stake in the investigation, potential charges and any resolution of those charges.”

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 Monday the sheriff’s office did not have the original video.

The man in handcuffs was identified as William H. Rawls, 30, of Rockford. 

The slap happened after Rawls was taken to the Detention Center on a charge that he resisted arrest. Rawls also had an active warrant taken out against him in Blount County. Deputy Tim Moore wrote in his report, dated Nov. 10 at 3 a.m., that Rawls became combative after officers took him into custody and was kicking the cruiser’s window but did not cause any damage. Deputies had been initially dispatched to a 911 call about an intoxicated man trying to start a fight at 346 Conklin Road in Jonesborough.

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