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Johnson seeks 2nd term as DAG

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By Damon Lawrence

District Attorney General Russell Johnson isn’t procrastinating when it comes to drumming up support.

“I have already been out and about among the voters asking them to re-elect me,” he said.

Election Day is Aug. 7. Johnson is seeking a second eight-year term as district attorney general for the 9th Judicial District, which is comprised of Roane, Loudon, Meigs and Morgan counties.

“I feel that I can show the people of the 9th Judicial District how much improvement my office staff and I have made in the criminal justice system over the last seven plus years,” he said.

Johnson defeated Scott McCluen in the 2006 election.

Strengthening the relationship between his office and local law enforcement was one of the goals of Johnson’s first term.

“We have a good working relationship with every single law enforcement agency in the four counties,” he said. “I do everything I can to cooperate with and assist the members of local government, as well as the sheriffs and chiefs of police.”

In addition to building better relationships, Johnson said his office has made significant improvements in child support enforcement.

“To the extent that we are now one of the top offices in the state,” he said. “Some 15 years ago it was the worst in the state.”

Johnson said one of his staffers, Cortney Dugger, received the Paul Phillips Award in 2012.

“This is the highest award in our state for child support offices,” he said.

Johnson picked up his nominating petition earlier this month.

He had to do so in Loudon County because that’s where he lives.

Johnson said the number of assistant prosecutors in the district had been stuck at five since the late 1990s.

After much lobbying, Johnson said he was able to change that last year.

“I have been able to add three additional assistant DAs to the staff over the last year, including a DUI prosecutor,” he said. “We are now more effective and focused than ever before, especially in the area of DUI and drug prosecution.”

Johnson also said he’s made community outreach a significant part of his office’s approach.

“We hope to educate the community and especially the younger citizens in order to make improvements that will result in less juvenile crime, less drug abuse and, hopefully, less overall crime,” he said.

Johnson had to deal with some controversy in 2012 after it was revealed one of his employees used an office computer to register a domain name for then Roane County road superintendent candidate Dennis Ferguson.

The employee, office manager Angie Vittatoe, was suspended for two days without pay.

“It was an unfortunate lapse in judgment when she was merely performing an uncompensated favor for someone who, in his former role as state representative, was always a supporter of law enforcement, the state district attorneys and state employees,” Johnson said at the time.

Vittatoe left Johnson’s office last year to do mission work.

One of the most high-profile cases Roane County has ever seen was brought to an end early in Johnson’s term.

On Aug. 9, 2005, George Hyatte was being escorted to a prison van in the courthouse parking lot when Jennifer Hyatte, then his wife, shot corrections officers Wayne “Cotton” Morgan and Larry “Porky” Harris. Morgan died from his injuries.

The shooting was part of an escape plan concocted by the Hyattes.

They are now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jennifer pleaded guilty in 2007, and George pleaded guilty in 2009.

Johnson’s office has several high-profile cases still pending in criminal court.

One involves Shawn Smoot, a former Knoxville insurance agent, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Brooke Nicole Morris.

Her body was found at the intersection of Blair Road and Old Blair Road in 2011.

Matthew and Amanda Dotson are charged with first-degree murder in the death of their 2-year-old son Clifford.

Authorities said the toddler was starved to death.