published Monday, April 14th, 2014

Internal investigation raises questions in Hamilton County's register's race

A 25-year-old corrections officer seeking the Republican nod for the county register of deeds post says an internal investigation against him at the Hamilton County Jail started as a "personal issue that was taken too far." And he says the findings of the investigation have nothing to do with his ability to oversee deed filing for the county.

Ryan Epperson is seeking to beat 20-year incumbent Republican Register Pam Hurst in the May 6 primary. But in an internal investigation completed last month, Sheriff Jim Hammond sustained allegations that in August 2013 Epperson gave his supervisor a medical excuse from work signed by a doctor he never saw, failed to tell his supervisors he was taking a prescription drug, was vague and misleading with investigators and failed to cooperate with investigators by telling his spouse not to speak with them.

The original investigation included two other allegations that Epperson had altered a doctor's note and intentionally delayed filing booking paperwork during his regular duties, but those allegations were ultimately dismissed.

Epperson said Friday the investigation has no bearing on his ability to oversee the register's office.

Only four of the six allegations were upheld, but he said they were minor and no action was taken against him. And the first allegation -- which prompted the investigation -- had no merit.

"This was never an issue of work performance. It started as a personal issue that was taken too far," Epperson said.

The first of the allegations that stuck involved Epperson getting a "return to work slip" from a medical facility where his spouse worked. The facility's name was redacted from the report given to the Times Free Press. According to investigation reports, an employee at the facility wrote the slip for Epperson as a favor to Epperson's spouse.

Officers are required by department policy to tell their supervisors about legitimate prescription drugs they are taking, but Epperson did not. That made up the second sustained allegation.

The final two allegations centered on investigators feeling that Epperson was evasive with them and did not cooperate during the investigation.

Epperson said there were reasons for that, but he said he could not comment on them "because other things are going on that I can't talk about."

Hammond said Friday he did not recall all of the details of Epperson's investigation, but said the department took no action against him.

A final disciplinary letter about the investigation dated March 25 that was sent by Assistant County Attorney Dee Hobbs to Epperson said "although the allegations were sustained, the discipline rendered by Sheriff Hammond consisted only of an admonition to you regarding your future conduct."

Whoever wins the primary for the register's office will likely take the seat in August. There is no Democratic opposition.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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