published Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Bradley County Sheriff's Office wrongly releases 2 inmates

The Bradley County Sheriff's Office seems to be having trouble with the concept of custody.

Right after they forgot a manacled inmate overnight in a holding cell, Bradley officers mistakenly released two prisoners and waited days to start looking for them, sources inside the sheriff's office confirmed Friday.

It wasn't clear how or why the jail doors were so quick to open for either prisoner. The miscreants -- both felons, one with a history of violence -- had several days' head start on the hunters.

Jonathan Meeks, 33, who was convicted of aggravated assault after stabbing a girl, was let out a full week ago. He wasn't even a Bradley County prisoner -- he'd been serving a three-year sentence in Davidson County and was brought to Southeast Tennessee for court, the sources said.

Meeks was taken into custody Friday evening, the sources said.

Lisa Cronan, who pleaded guilty May 19 to aggravated burglary and theft over $1,000, was released Tuesday, but the hunt for both didn't start until Friday, the sources said. She was still free as of Friday night.

That news came the same day as the sheriff's office suspended two deputies and apologized for leaving Nathaniel Caldwell locked up and handcuffed overnight in a cell with no food, water or access to a bathroom.

Deputies arrested Caldwell on May 27 on a warrant for violating probation and placed him in a courthouse holding cell pending transport to the county jail. The transport never materialized, and night-shift deputies in the courthouse apparently never noticed him over the next 18 hours.

In a news release Friday, sheriff's spokesman Bob Gault said Sheriff Jim Ruth and Chief Deputy W.G. "Buck" Campbell apologized to Caldwell and his family. He said the arresting officer was suspended for 20 days and the supervisor for 10 days. He declined to release the officers' names, saying the internal investigation isn't complete.

Gault, Campbell and jail supervisor Gwen Beavers all failed to respond to calls and voicemails left Friday seeking information about the wrongly released inmates.

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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