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Sheriff: ‘lawsuit all lies’

Claiborne Sheriff Bob Brooks said in an interview on Saturday that the federal wrongful death lawsuit filed against his office is “all lies.”

“The stuff the family has alleged is not true. I don’t even have any paperwork on this, yet. It’s completely blindsided me,” said Brooks, adding he first heard of the suit about 4:30 p.m. the previous day, when a broadcast news station broke the story.

The suit alleges that the Claiborne Sheriff’s Office contributed to the death of Jeffery Drinnon when officers repeatedly tased the man during arrest and while in custody.

The lawsuit claims the officers should have been aware of the increased risks involved when using a tasing device on methamphetamine users. The document states that Drinnon was not taken to the hospital for treatment, even though he had admitted using the drug to officers and was exhibiting signs of meth toxicity.

Drinnon and his passenger, Adam Rhea of Morristown, were arrested on the morning of Feb. 14, 2019. The two men led law enforcement officers on a prolonged high-speed chase that began on Back Valley Road in Speedwell near the Campbell/Claiborne county line. The caravan sped along Hwy. 63 through communities and a school zone, eventually ending when the suspects’ vehicle was apprehended near the intersection of TN 25E and Hwy. 63 in Harrogate.

Sheriff Brooks said during the interview that Drinnon was well-known by law enforcement in surrounding counties as a ‘career criminal.’

He described the incident leading to the arrest.

“There was a high-speed pursuit that ended in the Hwy. 25E/ 63 area. The passenger pulled his weapon on a deputy. Mr. Drinnon, who was the driver, was found with a large amount of drugs – synthetic marijuana,” said Brooks.

Officers recovered an assortment of contraband at the scene, including a Ruger semi-automatic, three pounds of marijuana, a small amount of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, according to the initial press release from last year.

The suit alleges that Drinnon became “abnormally drowsy” and was left unsupervised in his cell to “sleep it off” for some 8 hours. The document alleges that jail staff eventually found Drinnon collapsed on the floor with labored breathing.

He was rushed to the Claiborne Medical Center in Tazewell on Feb. 16, and later transported to the UT Medical Center in Knoxville, where he died the next day.

The hospital reportedly listed cause of death as stroke brought on by acute methamphetamine toxicity.

Sheriff Brooks insists he can prove the allegations are untrue.

“Alleging that he was unattended for 8 hours – I mean, we’ve got documentation to prove that’s not right. Once he was in handcuffs, he was never tased. The guy never gave us any trouble. I talked to him, myself, at the scene.

“This is just a desperate attempt – you know. Somebody thinks they’re going to get some money out of it,” said Brooks.

At the time of his arrest, Drinnon was charged with reckless endangerment, reckless driving, evading arrest, felony possession of a schedule VI controlled substance, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, violation of the Drug Free School Zone Act, driving on a suspended license and violations of the seat belt and financial responsibility laws.

Rhea was charged at the time with four counts of aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer and one count each of possession of a firearm, felony possession of a schedule VI controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and violation of the Drug Free School Zone Act.

Those named in the lawsuit are Sheriff Robert Brooks, Sgt. Dwayne Napier and Deputies Adam Southern, Jacob Crawford and Carl Mozingo. Also listed are South Health Partners, Inc. and unknown medical professionals and jail officers.

The family of the deceased is demanding a trial by jury.

The Claiborne Progress is following this story and will have more as new information becomes available.