published Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Attorney claims assault by Bebb: TBI investigation sought into manhandling, firing

An assistant district attorney in Bradley County says her boss, 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb, physically assaulted and then fired her last week, and she believes it is related to her preference in the upcoming DA race.

Cynthia LeCroy Schemel, who had worked in the 10th District DA's office since late 2007, said Saturday she filed a report with the Cleveland Police Department on Friday accusing Bebb of assault.

Schemel said Cleveland Detective Daniel Gibbs took her information and told her the report would be ready in two or three days. The police report was not available Saturday. The Times Free Press has requested a copy under the state's open records act.

State Sen. Mike Bell, who represents three counties in the 10th Judicial District, said Saturday that after speaking with Schemel, he contacted TBI Director Mark Gwyn and asked him to open an investigation.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine confirmed by email that Gwyn has spoken with Bell in the last day or two but said no investigation had begun as of Saturday evening.

Bell also said he will raise the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he is a member, and which has been investigating allegations of financial and prosecutorial misconduct against Bebb. A companion House committee has voted that Bebb should be brought up on ethics violations and removed from office, but the Senate committee has not yet voted.

"I am very concerned in light of everything that's gone on in the DA's office over the last eight years," the Riceville Republican said. "The allegation that a man threatened a woman working under him in his office is unacceptable.

"It's time that Bebb put an end to all this and resign. In fact, I'm calling on him to resign," Bell said.

Bebb did not respond to a message left on his cellphone Saturday afternoon seeking comment.

Schemel said the altercation started Wednesday when she was walking toward the office of a co-worker whom Bebb had been upbraiding. She said he was yelling and pounding his fist on the desk and the woman, eight months pregnant, was weeping.

Schemel said she was going to try to calm the woman when she met Bebb in the hall and he began railing at her. She said two witnesses saw and heard Bebb yell at her, then grab her and cock a fist at her.

"It was very disturbing," Schemel said in an interview Saturday. "I've never been in that situation with a boss. I didn't know what to do. I was afraid he was going to physically harm me."

One witness, investigator Calvin Rockholt, said Saturday he could not discuss the incident because there is a police investigation.

He said he witnessed a "conversation" between Bebb and Schemel but would not confirm or deny whether he saw Bebb physically touch or threaten her.

"I will be a probable witness and have to testify, but at this time I can't discuss it," he said.

The other witness, prosecutor Richard Fisher, did not return a message seeking comment Saturday. Schemel said his daughter's wedding was Saturday.

She said she didn't see Bebb on Thursday, but on Friday morning, he came into her office and fired her, saying she had "done nothing but stab [him] in [his] back" and "undermine [him]."

She said he was angry that she is supporting Steve Crump in the Republican primary for district attorney. Campaign finance disclosures show that Schemel's husband, Chattanooga CPA Edward Schemel, has contributed to Crump's campaign.

Bebb has actively been supporting his former chief assistant, Stephen Hatchett, in the primary. Schemel said he was "very upset" after the Times Free Press reported in February that people connected to the office had contributed to Crump's campaign. Besides Edward Schemel, Crump received donations from Assistant District Attorney Joseph "Mac" McCoin and Chris Townsend, the husband of Assistant District Attorney Brooklyn Townsend.

She said Bebb often leaves the office during work hours with Hatchett, something other sources also have told the Times Free Press. On at least two occasions -- once in McMinn County and once in Monroe County, people with connections to the DA's office have told the Times Free Press -- witnesses saw Bebb soliciting votes for Hatchett during work hours.

Bebb also wrote a letter in January to Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference Executive Director Wally Kirby on official letterhead saying he was supporting Hatchett.

Under Tennessee's Little Hatch Act, use of state property or equipment for partisan political campaigning is a misdemeanor. Violations are prosecuted by the local district attorney -- in this case, Bebb.

Use of state letterhead and the state email system for a partisan campaign also could violate the federal Hatch Act. That law could come into play if a state office receives federal money. The 10th District DA's office gets a federal grant to support a DUI prosecutor.

A spokesman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington, D.C., told the Times Free Press in March that it could neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation has been requested or opened regarding Bebb's use of state property for partisan purposes.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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