Tennessee Bureau of Investigation looking to outside district attorney to handle Pinkston and Wamp case

  • In US
  • 2022-01-28 10:06:00Z
  • By Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Jan. 28-The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is getting an outside district attorney involved to handle a case in which Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston accused a political opponent of obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

Pinkston has accused Coty Wamp, who serves as legal counsel in the sheriff's office and is challenging Pinkston in the May 3 Republican primary for district attorney, of interfering with a Soddy-Daisy gunshot case in which she alleged the wrong man had been arrested. The case remains ongoing, and TBI has declined to comment further on the matter.

"We are awaiting the appointment of the district attorney pro tem on this case before providing any information from our findings," TBI spokesperson Susan Niland said via email Wednesday.

Niland's comment followed remarks from a different spokesperson, Josh DeVine, who said Tuesday no information about the ongoing investigation would be made public.

The bureau also said an explanation for the reasoning behind transferring the case to a separate district attorney would need to be explained by Pinkston.

From the beginning, TBI officials said they would not comment on the investigation because it was ongoing. Spokespeople said Jan. 14 that any findings would be shared with Pinkston, as the person who initially referred the case to TBI.

Pinkston's office did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wamp has raised questions about whether Pinkston's referral of the case to the TBI was a political move, saying it was "convenient" that Pinkston had made a referral involving his only political opponent.

"It would be improper for him to have a hand in this case from the beginning," Wamp said in a Thursday phone interview. "I knew a pro tem would be appointed. He knew that would not make headlines."

Dick Williams, chair of the government watchdog organization Common Cause Tennessee, in a Wednesday phone call said it's common to view such an issue as politically problematic.

"There's an appropriate reluctance for such an agency to get involved in an allegation that hangs over the election," Williams said. "On the other hand, they can't just ignore it."

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, added that Pinkston would be wise to share information about the case.

"I don't know why the DA wouldn't want to clear this up, because it's with a political opponent," she said.

In a Jan. 6 referral to the TBI, the district attorney alleged Wamp participated in obstruction of justice in the aftermath of a gunshot into the ground on Barbee Road. No one was injured.

In the referral, Pinkston said the Soddy-Daisy Police Department relayed that Wamp notified the department it had the wrong suspect in custody following the shooting.

Pinkston went on to say the victims took back their original stories after their interactions with Wamp.

"After this alleged intervention, victims recount original story, deny Hugo Garcia Padilla is suspect and now accuse Hugo Garcia Robles," he wrote in the document, apparently intending to spell "recant."

Since the TBI took over the investigation into the shooting and Wamp's involvement, the police department, Wamp, Pinkston and most other involved parties have declined to comment about the gunshot case or the subsequent complaint about Wamp.

In the past, though, Wamp has stated that Pinkston is using the investigation for political gain, which he has disputed.

Candidates must return qualifying petitions to the elections commission by Feb. 17, and they have until Feb. 24 to withdraw from the race.

Contact Logan Hullinger at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com or 814-319-5158. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.


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