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Constable Patton jailed

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE & TERRI LIKENS

For a short while, Constable Mark Patton found himself in a place where he vowed to put others – behind bars. He smiled Thursday night as he walked into the Roane County Jail at 8:20 p.m. to be booked on three counts of assault.

After posting bond of $3,000, Patton was free again by 9:20.

The charges stem from an incident that occurred at Kingston City Park on Wednesday. Patton got into an altercation with some young men, including the son of Roane County Executive Mike Farmer.

“Patton is said by the witnesses and victims to have started a verbal altercation with several youths, in essence challenging them to fight him,” a news release from the district attorney general's office stated. “One victim alleges that Patton struck him in the face with his hand or fist and sprayed him with pepper spray. At least two other victims allege that Patton sprayed them as well.”

Patton attorney Chris Cawood, who, earlier this summer helped get Patton reinstated as constable, said there are two sides to every story.

Cawood also said that Patton was the victim in Wednesday night's incident.

Patton was not in handcuffs as he walked into the jail. Wes Stooksbury of the Kingston Police Department said the surrender was peaceful. Patton even shook Stooksbury's hand before he walked inside.

The alleged incident that landed the embattled constable in jail happened barely 24 hours earlier, bringing a squadron of police to Kingston City Park.

The incident also prompted officials to schedule an ouster hearing to decide whether to seek his removal.

The youths, according to officials, were from First Baptist Church in Kingston and were playing basketball at the park.

Authorities said witnesses told them that Patton started a verbal altercation with some of them, even challenging them to fight him.

About 10 Roane County Sheriff’s deputies and Kingston police officers were at the scene, although, after two hours of talking, no arrest was made.

That’s because District Attorney General Russell Johnson asked that Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officers be brought in to handle the probe, Washam said.

The request is a reflection of the bad blood between Patton and the two law enforcement agencies, which have accused Patton of harassing officers.

Johnson issued a news release Thursday afternoon stating that he and Roane County Attorney Tom McFarland will be conducting a preliminary hearing Tuesday on the potential effort to oust Patton from office.

"Both officials stressed that they view the hearing as a necessary part of their 'due diligence' requirement before taking the step of filing an ouster suit," according to the news release. "They want to make sure that grounds exist for the filing of the lawsuit."

The dispute between Patton and other authorities has taken a series of turns.

Patton was elected in August 2006, but after harassment accusations raised by Kingston police, he resigned in August 2007. He quickly withdrew his resignation, claiming it had never been properly accepted by Roane County commissioners. When commissioners appointed a replacement officer, Patton sued. Last month, he won his case and was reinstated.

The move resulted in nearly immediate tension at the county courthouse, where Patton brought out the infamous thick tree sapling he calls his “big stick” and held an impromptu news conference. He promised to clean up the county.

At one point, Sheriff Jack Stockton unholstered his gun as he stood nearby.

Despite all the police cars, Wednesday’s two-hour interaction with officers seemed almost friendly at times.

Dressed in overalls and a red sleeveless T-shirt, Patton leaned back against his car while officers hovered around.

With Watts Bar Lake rippling in the fading daylight behind Patton, officers, led by Chief Deputy Tim Phillips, talked at length with him.

As lights from cruisers washed them in intermittent blue, Patton cajoled, joked and, at times, even had police officers laughing with him.

At one point, he pulled one Kingston officer to him and gave him a bear hug. The strapping constable later leaned down and kissed the shaven head of another officer.

When Patton's wife, Cheryl, appeared at the park, Patton sent her away, saying he and the officers were working things out.

During the talk, Patton looked across at a journalist who was told to stay back by police and asked if she planned to write the truth “or more fibbing.”

On Thursday morning, the situation resulted in a series of meetings and consultations between the district attorney general, state investigators, city and county officials and police.

Those meetings led to the setting of Tuesday's hearing at the district attorney general's office at 9 a.m.