published Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Hamilton County sheriff says he asked TBI to probe car turnover

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said Monday he is asking the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into whether state forfeiture procedures were violated when he returned a car to a mother after her son's drug arrest.

"This is a procedural situation. It had nothing to do with influence," Hammond said. "I don't know the lady. ... She may have gone to school with me, but so did a thousand other people."

Marcia Tenenbaum said she and Hammond were classmates at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the criminal justice program. She said she phoned him after her son's April 13 arrest -- Jeremy Tenenbaum, 27, was charged with felony possession after 15 ounces of marijuana was found in her 1990 Lincoln Towncar. The sheriff arranged to have the car returned to her within a few days.

Hammond said he never returned the car without going through the proper channels and that the vehicle wasn't returned until a month later. He said the sheriff's office has no interest in the car.

"I vaguely remember someone calling about it. I always turn it over to narcotics. That's what happened this time," he said. "We were in error. We didn't file the paperwork or somewhere it got lost in the shuffle. We will correct that."

TBI officials said Monday there is nothing on file showing an open investigation. TBI only investigates allegations of misconduct at law enforcement agencies after a county's district attorney office requests an investigation.

"At this time, we have no involvement," said TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm.

Hammond said he has contacted the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office to ask for the investigation.

Attempts to reach the district attorney's office Monday were unsuccessful.

The sheriff's office is also conducting an internal investigation into how the car was released.

The car already belongs to the state, according to an order issued last week by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The state has about 10,000 vehicles as a result of seizures.

If no appeal is filed by the vehicle owner within a specific length of time, the cars are given back to the arresting agency, where they are used as service vehicles for up to five years or put up for auction.

Tenenbaum's Towncar could be seized at any time because it no longer belongs to her.

"I don't know what we're going to end up doing," Hamilton County Deputy Chief Allen Branum said. "We're looking for legal advice right now."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at 423-757-6406 or bburger@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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