Attorney Rick Spivey questions his client, Chris Jones, before the Mount Carmel BMA Monday. Jeff Bobo photo.
MOUNT CARMEL — Following a four-hour hearing Monday which included lengthy testimony about a pill theft “setup” of former Mount Carmel Police Lt. Chris Jones, the board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 4-2 to uphold Jones’ firing in April.
Jones, 42, had worked for Mount Carmel for more than 20 years, mostly as a police officer and detective, although he spent eight years as full-time fire chief.
On April 18, Jones was the subject of a sting operation in which he was allegedly presented with 14 40-milligram “OxyContin” pills that investigators planted in a jacket. That jacket was turned in to MCPD as lost and found at a time when Jones was the only officer on duty.
The pills were OxyContin look-alikes, and Jones processed them as evidence that night. The next day four pills were allegedly missing.
Aside from losing his job, Jones has reason to be concerned about an investigation into alleged pill trafficking dating back more than a year.
According to testimony Monday, that’s the reason the April 18 sting was initiated against him.
Sources in law enforcement told the Times-News that the Kingsport Police Department and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation acquired recordings of Jones allegedly speaking to a confidential informant who asks Jones to sell him Lortab painkillers.
Jones had been prescribed Lortabs following a knee injury in June of 2012 which resulted in him being off duty until January of this year.
In the recordings, Jones allegedly replies to the informant that he is out of pills but will receive a new supply in two to three weeks.
The informant then allegedly asks Jones to set some aside for him/her and Jones agrees.
In April, the TBI confirmed the Jones is the subject of an ongoing drug investigation.
MCPD Lt. Kevin Ewing, who testified during Monday’s hearing, attempted to introduce information about informant recordings and the criminal investigation against Jones into the record during Monday’s hearing.
Attorney Rick Spivey, who represented Jones during Monday’s hearing, objected on multiple occasions as Ewing was being questioned by Mount Carmel City Attorney Chris Raines.
Eventually Spivey called Raines out of the boardroom for a brief private discussion. Upon their return Raines limited his questioning to the actual April 18 “setup” in which Jones was accused of stealing four pills.
Ewing testified that he’d been notified by a Kingsport Police Department detective on May 7, 2012, that Jones was implicated during a KPD investigation as an alleged drug trafficker.
Eventually Ewing, as well as members of the Second Judicial Drug Task Force, met with the attorney general’s office and agreed to initiate a sting operation involving Jones. The plan was to have an agent turn in a jacket at the MCPD which supposedly had been found at the City Park.
Real drugs weren’t used. Ewing testified that he placed 14 fake OxyContin pills in the jacket, along with cash and other drug paraphernalia. The TBI and KPD verified those contents, Ewing added.
“We wanted to give Officer Jones an opportunity to comply with department procedures or violate department procedures,” Ewing testified.
MCPD video surveillance shows Jones processing the contents of the jacket as evidence, although the video isn’t clear enough to discern the number of pills present. Various hand movements on the part of Jones were called into question by Ewing and Raines.
As the BMA was watching the surveillance video during Monday’s hearing, a member of the audience blurted out that Jones had scooped pills into his hand.
That audience member was ejected from the hearing.
Jones testified that he only counted 10 pills in the jacket, and it never had 14 pills. Jones stated under oath that he never stole any pills or anything else from the town of Mount Carmel.
Jones also testified that after he returned to work from his injury he believed his job was in jeopardy.
Board members who voted in favor of upholding Jones’ firing included Mayor Larry Frost, Vice Mayor Paul Hale, and Aldermen Frances Frost and Eugene Christian. The two no votes were cast by Aldermen Leann Debord and Carl Wolfe.