Charlie McKenzie said this morning he was not aware of the allegations until being told Friday by Walter Hunt, a Sheriff’s Office investigator. McKenzie neither confirmed nor denied he used the word “n-----.”
“Since running for and since taking office, there have been some personal attacks against me. I believe they are politically motivated,” he said. “I ran for office to serve all citizens of Cleveland and Bradley County equally, no matter their color or race.
McKenzie added, “Due to my current health condition of pneumonia and respiratory problems and the added stress of these allegations, I did request a medical leave of absence and to my knowledge, it was approved. I have no further comment.”
When asked if the accusations would affect McKenzie’s seat on the Council, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said he did not have enough knowledge of the allegations to comment.
Sheriff Jim Ruth confirmed McKenzie submitted a request Friday for medical leave during the investigator’s interview, but according to the sheriff, McKenzie implied he would not return to duty.
Ruth said McKenzie’s supervisor performed an evaluation recently which was not satisfactory. He said based on McKenzie’s reported medical issues and unsatisfactory evaluation, he wouldn’t have allowed McKenzie to return to work after his medical leave request.
The events surrounding McKenzie began when an email was circulated to area media from firstname.lastname@example.org. The email cited complaints filed by two of McKenzie’s co-workers.
Ruth said, “We asked the district attorney’s office to look into this and they determined it to be a fictitious site.”
He is requesting further investigation to determine if any laws were violated.
Lawrence Armstrong, president of the Bradley County branch of the NAACP, said there are many questions that need answers.
“We are totally against any form of discrimination and will advocate strongly against any individual or entity who condones or endorses this type of behavior,” Armstrong said. “I am not sure of the validity of the information that is listed in the email because I’m not familiar with the source. There are many questions that we really need answered and we look forward to working with all parties involved to resolve these issues. We will issue a formal press release once we’re able to obtain more knowledge of the situation in its entirety.”
The email stated that deputies Tony Liner and Kristie Barton complained McKenzie used the derogatory term “while he was in uniform and in the line of duty.”
According to Ruth, McKenzie had been training for the past few months with deputies to serve civil papers.
“He would be serving papers on his own which would help Judicial Services officers to do other jobs,” Ruth said.
The email also questioned why McKenzie resigned instead of being terminated. “Earlier this week, sheriff Ruth and chief Bird (Chief Deputy Wayne Bird) called a private meeting with McKenzie which ended in McKenzie’s resignation,” the email stated.
According to Ruth, that meeting never took place with McKenzie, Bird nor himself.
After learning of the deputies’ complaints on Friday, Ruth asked for an internal affairs investigation, he said.
“There were allegations of myself as being racist in the email. Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t stand for anything like that happening here at the Sheriff’s Office,” Ruth said.
The email implies unfair treatment of minorities by Ruth and Bird since Sept. 1, 2010, when he assumed office. The email listed minority officers by name who it alleged had been terminated.
“The day Ruth took office, he demoted Capt. Gabe Thomas from head of the Corrections Division to a slick sleeve deputy, and cut his pay by $24,000,” the email stated.
Also, Lt. Antonio L. Simpson, deputies Daphney A. Dunn, Calvin K. Thompson and Sgt. Sharon L. McBride, all African-Americans, and deputy Eduardo B. Choate Jr., of Brazilian ancestry, were all terminated, according to the email.
“In my opinion, someone with an agenda is attempting to turn an issue with one employee into a racism issue,” Ruth said. “Lots of minorities and females work here in the Sheriff’s Office.”