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Patton ouster trial under way

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By The Staff

By JENNIFER RAYMOND

jraymond@roanecounty.com

Officials accused Roane County Constable Mark Patton of misconduct as the ouster trial of the beleaguered constable started Monday.

Roane County Tom McFarland opened the trial saying that Patton has performed misconduct in his office as constable by threatening police officers, elected officials and citizens and also performing an illegal stop.

“After this stop, there was a period of escalation,” McFarland said.

The breaking point, McFarland said was when Patton posed with his big stick for the Roane County News.

McFarland also brought up assault charges filed against Patton.

Patton's attorney, Chris Cawood, contends that the assault charges are merely accusations and Patton can be found not guilty of those charges.

He addressed the issue of the big stick, citing a quote from Teddy Roosevelt.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick,” Cawood said. He stated that the stick was merely a prop.

Cawood agreed that there is animosity between Patton and other law enforcement personnel.

He said the voters of Roane County put him into his position, “and the voters of Roane County can vote him out.”

The first witness called was Kingston Police Sgt. Caleb Strayer, who was involved in the alleged illegal stop mentioned by McFarland in opening statements.

Strayer testified that he was stopped by Patton in August 2007.

He said that Patton pulled him over because he violated traffic laws, like running a stop sign and speeding.

Strayer contends that he didn't violate any laws.

McFarland asked if Strayer had reason to believe Patton was looking for him.

Strayer said he had arrested a friend of Patton's prior to this incident.

When Strayer was pulled over by Patton he was asked to give over license and registration and proof of insurance.

Strayer testified that he couldn't find his proof of insurance and asked his passenger, Brian Newberry, who was also a witness, to get out of the car and look under his seat for the insurance.

When Newberry got out of the car, Patton then asked him to go to the back of the car, gave him a field sobriety test and then arrested him.

“So at this point, you arrested his friend, and he's arrested yours,” McFarland said.

Strayer then also testified that since that time, he has felt harassed by Patton, who he said has also given him an obscene gesture while in his constable patrol car.

“Anybody that would act that way is dangerous,” Strayer said.

Strayer did admit to returning the gesture to Patton.

Luke McCombs. a friend of boh Strayer and Newberry, also testified.

 McCombs said Patton follwed him on numerous occasions, prompting him to buy a gun.

“It was almost as if my house was being watched,” McCombs said.

McCombs said he has also been pulled over by Patton, but was not given a ticket.

Newberry also said he has felt threatened since he was arrested by Patton.

Judge Russell Simmons Jr. overheard opening arguments as well as testimony from the three witnesses before breaking for lunch.