DA Johnson:
Grand jury refuses to indict officer who admitted theft

Associated Press

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 official misconduct.

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 confiscated evidence."

Police Chief Chuck Ziegler is out of his office this week and couldn't be reached for comment.