‘Is it OK to keep my service weapon?’ Claiborne Commission to decide next month

Published 12:32 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2023

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Retired Sheriff’s Deputy Craig Owsley will have to wait until next month to learn whether he can keep his Glock service weapon. The Claiborne Commission decided to hold off on the matter until it has a chance to confer with County Attorney James Estep III.

Tennessee Codes Annotated 8-8-218 says he can if two-thirds majority of the governing body – the Claiborne County Commission in this case – agrees to the request.

The law allows any full-time sheriff or deputy who retires under honorable status to retain their service weapon provided they receive a majority vote. Those sheriffs and deputies retiring under disability receive the same opportunity.

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The request brought a bit of discussion.

“The state requires 25 years for a trooper, to retain your service weapon,” said Commissioner Eric Jones, who sponsored the resolution. “I don’t know if we’ve ever given any other guns out. I know one of my friends – he worked for 22 years and he didn’t get his.

“Basically, I brought (this matter) before the County Commission for him (Owsley), to see if we want to set that year boundary and abide by it.”

Owsley worked 17 years with the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office. Prior to coming to the CCSO, he was employed at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

Audience member Wayne Lee, who previously served as CCSO Chief Deputy, addressed the statute.

“This is a new law that was passed in 2016,” said Lee. “There’s no statutory requirement for time.”

Claiborne Sheriff Bob Brooks was asked his opinion. Brooks said the statute was written for those who served full time and that Owsley was considered a part-time employee for much of his time on the force.

“That is not correct,” said Lee. “He’s a 32-hour employee who was on the county insurance.”

Brooks referred to another officer who had served 22 years and did not receive his service weapon.

“He didn’t ask,” said Lee.

Commissioner Zach Mullins said he felt the board will need to set guidelines for however many years an officer will need to serve before retaining their weapon upon retirement.

“What we’re going to get into by the time we back up – there are still people alive from the (former Sheriff) Eddie Shoffner days that will come forward, looking for theirs. And then, the flip side of this is, every gun we give out we’re going to have to replace,” said Mullins.

Each weapon costs the county $600, according to Brooks.

Lee reminded the commission that the state law is not retroactive and that any retirements prior to 2016 would be considered null and void.

Commissioner David Mundy asked that the matter be tabled until the county attorney returns next month. Estep was not present due to COVID-19.

Commissioner Whitt Shuford asked whether the matter would be considered under the umbrella of the Claiborne Buildings, Grounds & Personnel Committee since the Glock is considered county property. Shuford then asked to amend the vote to include having Estep meet with the committee members to draft a procedure covering all the concerns raised during the discussion.

The vote passed unanimously.

It was also discussed that a list of past retirees be drawn to see how many might qualify under the law. It is uncertain whether this would work under the statute.

The commission will likely revisit the issue during its February meeting, which will be held the fourth Monday evening of the month due to the Presidents’ Day holiday.