Sheriff Tom Spangler has no plans to abolish the Inmate Industries division that provides no-cost labor for nonprofits in Knox County. That’s despite his action this week to terminate the director, the assistant director and a mechanic.
“Rest assured the program is NOT going away. I will be having someone else taking over those duties as soon as we start letting the crews work,” Spangler emailed in response to a question. Inmate Industries has been suspended during the Covid pandemic.
Terminated were Ivan Harmon, Scott Moore and Larry Hurst. Harmon and Moore are friends who served together on Knox County Commission. Additionally, Harmon served on the school board and city council at various times.
(Disclosure: Inmate Industries has provided labor for community projects that I’ve been involved with, such as clearing the land for the disc golf course at Powell Station Park. Inmates also did the initial clearing of Beaver Creek for the summer flotilla.)
So, the sheriff’s office has conducted an internal investigation since October that resulted in this week’s firings. Spangler told WBIR-TV that additional firings may be ahead. “We are awaiting the Tennessee Comptroller’s report. However, with the overwhelming number of General Order violations and one or more TCA code violations, I could not in good conscious allow these individuals to remain employed by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.” WBIR’s story is here.
When you’ve got a few minutes, read the full 223-page investigation report here.
Over on Page 32, Harmon talks about some pigs that were raised near the greenhouses at the detention center property. Who knew?
Interviewer: “Who decided when it was time to slaughter the pigs?”
Harmon: “Sheriff Jones.” … “They mostly put it in sausage. We’d have 400 to 500 pounds of sausage.”
Interviewer: “That’s a lot of sausage.”
Harmon: “Two freezers full. … He (then-Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones) would give it to different people, like county commissioners. He’d give them 10 to 12 pounds. … I think maybe some of the judges got some. I’m speculating.”
Harmon went on to clarify: “The sheriff paid for all the feed for them pigs. He raised them; I mean we (Inmate Industries) took care of them.”
Harmon relates how he and Moore would dash over on their lunch hour to cut the lawn for former Detective John Maples.
And Page 33 moves to a guy named Pete who cut trees.
The report finds no accounting of funds for salvage pallets (about $1 each) and scrap metal (from fences the inmates tore down.) Harmon said it wasn’t much money, he only did what people who preceded him had done, and the cash was used for inmate cookouts and the occasional pizza.
This video by Charles Denney shows Powell Station Park before it was cleared by Inmate Industries and developed into a wooded disc golf course.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.