CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee police detective charged with lying in court about a sexual assault case wants the local prosecutor taken off the case, saying there is a conflict of interest.
Gatlinburg detective Rodney Burns was indicted May 20 on two felony counts of aggravated perjury in Hamilton County regarding his testimony about the alleged sexual assault of Ooltewah High School basketball players by their teammates in an apparent hazing incident.
Burns' lawyer, Bryan Delius, says Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston has a conflict of interest and therefore shouldn't be permitted to participate in Burns' prosecution.
Delius says the conflict of interest results from Burns' pending civil defamation claim against Pinkston. The claim argues that Pinkston made defamatory statements about Burns to the media.
In a press release, Delius said that Pinkston "has a clear conflict of interest that prevents him from being a just and fair prosecutor" in Burns' case. Delius said he approached Pinkston asking him to voluntarily step aside from prosecuting the case. When Pinkston declined, Delius filed the motion.
Melydia Clewell, a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County district attorney's office, said "Tennessee Supreme Court rules prohibit us from commenting on pending cases." Clewell said the district attorney's office would file a response to the motion before Burns' Aug. 23 hearing.
The Hamilton County District Attorney's office didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Burns' testimony was in regard to a Dec. 22 incident that resulted in juvenile aggravated rape charges against three Ooltewah basketball players. The charges against Burns reflect the feud between officials in Sevier County, where the incident occurred, and Hamilton County, where the players live.
Gatlinburg police have charged three players with the aggravated rape of a freshman teammate at a cabin while Ooltewah High's team was participating in a holiday tournament. But officials in Hamilton County say four players were "subjected to apparent sexual assault."
The perjury charges against Burns stem from his testimony at a Feb. 15 preliminary hearing for Ooltewah coach Andre Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and assistant principal/athletic director Allard Nayadley. The three school officials faced charges in Hamilton County for failure to report child sexual abuse to the proper authorities.
Burns testified during the hearing that the assault had been blown out of proportion and was "something stupid that kids do."
According to the indictment in Hamilton County, Burns testified there were no "screams of anguish" during the incident, even though his written police reports noted that one witness told police a "victim yelled out in pain" and another said "he could hear (the victim) yelling" during the attack. The indictment also says there was a discrepancy in Burns' testimony about whether he tried to call other officials and report the case.
Montgomery was indicted in May on four counts of failing to report child sexual abuse.
Nayadley entered a pre-trial diversion program in May. If he complies with terms of that program, which include performing community service and taking a class on mandatory reporting, the charges can be removed from his record. He also recently announced he was resigning.
Authorities announced in May they were dropping the charges against Williams "based on his volunteer status as a coach and that he was not provided any training regarding the mandatory reporting law."