TBI stonewall could place large financial burden on local law enforcement

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BENTON COUNTY, Tenn. — The 24th Judicial District involves five counties including Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin and Henry. All sheriff’s offices and police departments in that area will now have the burden of conducting and paying for their own criminal investigations. It appears to be a lot of finger pointing between the TBI and the DA’s office in a dispute that could cost local law enforcement thousands and thousands of dollars, and officials said it has been frustrating being caught in the middle. “Well, we kind of got blindsided really,” Benton County Sheriff Kenny Christopher said. This comes after the TBI announces cut ties with the 24th Judicial District at District Attorney Matt Stowe’s request. “These departments are not large enough to have internal affairs,” Christopher said. “We depend on going to outside agencies, and it’s always the TBI.” Christopher said his department sends everything from blood tests to fingerprints to the TBI for processing, all paid for by state taxes. Now, he said they will have to rely on private labs to process evidence, which could put these sheriff’s offices and police departments into bankruptcy. “The cost if we had to go elsewhere would be tremendous for the counties,” Christopher said. “I don’t think any of the small counties would be able to afford it.” Evidence and testimony from the TBI would also be lost, according to Christopher. In Benton County, the TBI handled 90 percent of the case against Westlee Yates, who is accused of beating his girlfriend’s 7-month-old son to death last August. Christopher said the case would be left in limbo. “If they were to be pulled out, I don’t think justice would be done,” Christopher said. “I don’t know where that case would go from there.” Overall, Christopher said he just wants things to get back to normal before his department and others feel the effects. “It’s kind of got us at a standstill,” Christopher said. “We want to get this wrapped up, and I hope they can have this worked out as fast as they can.” Stowe said TBI services will remain suspended until all parties meet with the attorney general to sort out the mess. There has so far been no word on when that meeting is supposed to take place.

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