Home News Tennessee jail policies under scrutiny after continuing disputes between police, sheriff

Tennessee jail policies under scrutiny after continuing disputes between police, sheriff


Tension and confusion among the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and the Cleveland Police Department in Tennessee are reaching critical levels when a suspect dies after being denied entrance into the Bradley County Jail.

The Times Free Press reports Thomas Creek Jr., 34, was reported missing March 23 by a family member, but what was not reported in the initial, official release was that Creek had been arrested earlier that night on warrants for theft, shoplifting and drug possession.

According to the Times Free Press, a police incident report indicates Creek was turned away at the Bradley County Jail for medical reasons and taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

Reporting indicates he didn’t stay in the hospital for long. He made a few calls — including to his mother — then he walked out of the hospital and was never seen alive again.

Although Creek’s arrest and subsequent death are sparking discussion, it’s not the first time Bradley County Jail officials refused entry on medical grounds to someone under arrest.

Sources in the sheriff’s office and Cleveland police department, who asked for anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak on the issue, are telling the Times Free Press it’s at least partly an interdepartmental feud about which agency has to pay the hospital bills for sick or injured prisoners.

Cleveland’s police chief says his department’s job is to deliver criminals to the jail for processing, and medical bills aren’t his problem.

The Times Free Press says state law dictates jailers must accept anyone who has been arrested and, jailers are responsible for providing medical care, either by the jail’s medical staff or at a hospital.

“This is not our agency making up the rules,” Police Chief Mark Gibson told the Times Free Press in a telephone interview Friday. “We have an obligation, we fulfill that obligation and deliver [prisoners] to the jail. If they don’t accept them at the jail that puts us in a spot: What do you do now?”

Gibson says if someone is injured or has a medical emergency during an arrest by a city officer, his people are going to call an ambulance.

“We’re not delivering people to the jail that have a serious medical condition or emergency and expecting the jail to deal with it,” he tells the Times Free Press.

In the latest case involving Mr. Creek, the Times Free Press writes officer Don Nation’s incident report said Creek didn’t mention any medical issues during his arrest. At the jail, however, Nation wrote, “Creek changed attitude and began to complain of cellulitis in both legs.” His blood pressure was slightly elevated. Jailers then refused him, and he was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

The Times Free Press says it’s unsure how long Creek stayed at the hospital, but his mother Kitty Creek, said via Facebook he called her that night and asked her to pick him up, but she didn’t have a working car.

“It’s a horrible feeling thinking that I might have stopped this if my car was not broke down,” Kitty wrote.

Creek’s body was found March 28 in a remote area of Polk County.

Creek’s mother claims if he would have went to jail the night of his arrest, he may still be alive.

“What I don’t understand is this was the second or third time the jail refused him,” she tells the Times Free Press. “They knew he would leave the hospital, he left the last time. Why didn’t they leave an officer with him?”

The Times Free Press reports, Jadarius Hudgins had a cut arm and was set free March 28. He’d been arrested for violating probation on a felony burglary conviction.

Bodycam video shows Officer Bradley Colbaugh tried to give a copy of an attorney general’s opinion to the jail staff. The opinion stated the jail must accept all prisoners. Lt. Carol Edwards refused it and ordered jailers not to accept any papers or open the jail door, Times Free Press reports.

Colbaugh called his supervisor, Sgt. Buddy Mitchell, who came to the jail and asked Edwards, “Do you know this is possibly criminal?”

She responded that she was just following departmental policies.

Gibson said the officers had no choice but to uncuff Hudgins and turn him loose.

“We followed the law,” Gibson told the Times Free Press. “They did not accept him, and we released him in the sally port. That’s the only option we have — we can’t drive him around all night.”

Gibson tells the Times Free Press he met with Sheriff Eric Watson and some of his officers, along with County Attorney Crystal Freiberg, on April 5 and gave them copies of the state law, the attorney general’s opinion and a confirmatory opinion from the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Advisory Service saying the jail must accept prisoners and provide medical care.

Tennessee’s County Technical Advisory Service says the jail must accept prisoners and provide medical care.

“We all agreed it was a situation that needed to be case by case, but we agreed on a process where we bring them over there and they will be booked in from now on,” Gibson tells the Times Free Press.

Asked by the Times Free Press why he hadn’t mentioned the arrest in his statement when Creek’s body was found, Gibson said they didn’t have much information at that point and that a suspect was at large.

Watson did not respond directly to a request for comment, but Freiberg provided a statement to the Times Free Press Friday.

“The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office is aware that the Bradley County jail must accept all persons arrested pursuant to law by the Sheriff’s Office or any City Police Officers,” she wrote to the Times Free Press in her statement.

“Bradley County does not ‘refuse’ inmates,” Freiberg added. She said the jail’s contract medical staff decides whether any prisoner needs emergency medical care.

To a Times Free Press question about whether Creek could have worked the “refuse-and-refer” policy to avoid imprisonment, Freiberg said the “specifics of any particular person’s medical conditions cannot be disclosed.”

She added, “Discussions between the Sheriff’s Office and the City of Cleveland have resulted in better communication between the departments to ensure that all persons arrested by both agencies receive appropriate and timely emergency medical care.”


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  1. How about not committing crimes and then this all could have been avoided? Sorry, but I feel no sympathy for a career criminal.

  2. I retired as Warden from a County Jail. Our policy was not to accept prisoners who needed emergency medical treatment. However, we had an arrangement with local police where they transported “refused” prisoners to the ER and we’d send a security detail over as quickly as we could. The jail may be required to provide medical care, but they aren’t required to provide FREE care. There are ways to collect money owed. If the prisoner has health insurance, use it.


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