Grand jury refuses to indict officer who admitted theft
ATHENS, Tenn. - A McMinn County Grand Jury refused to indict a former
Athens police detective who investigators say confessed to stealing
money from a police evidence locker.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson announced the
refusal in a statement to The Daily Post-Athenian. Johnson accused the
grand jury of either ignoring Bill Matthews' sworn statement about the
theft or not indicting him because they felt sorry for him.
An investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the
Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury found more than $46,000 in cash
and narcotics as well as a handgun had vanished from police custody.
Matthews has admitted to stealing at least $8,900 of that.
Matthews, who resigned Jan. 3 after working 26 years at the Athens
Police Department, couldn't be reached for comment. He now works as a
private investigator in Athens.
Investigators said Matthews gave a sworn statement confessing that he
took cash from the safe twice to ease personal finance problems and
debts, and that he planned to return it.
Johnson said he attempted to strike a plea bargain arrangement with
Matthews that would have kept him from taking the case before the grand
jury. But when negotiations failed, he sought charges of theft and
McMinn County grand jury foreman Joe Riley said he is "morally and
legally" obligated to not discuss the case. "We have no response because
what we do in that jury room is of the utmost confidentiality to protect
the citizens of McMinn County," Riley said.
The investigation also leaves lingering questions for the city and the
police department, which was criticized by Johnson for having "a lack of
appropriate controls on both the procedures involving seized money and
Police Chief Chuck Ziegler is out of his office this week and couldn't
be reached for comment.