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Jones harassment allegations timeline: who knew what and when?

On February 20th, WYSH first reported on the sexual harassment claims that had been made by several women against Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones that included accusations from what ended up being at least eight women of lewd Snap Chat messages, inappropriate behavior and comments in the office, text messages that insinuated career advancement in return for sexual favors and instances of retaliation against the female employees who did not participate in his alleged behavior.

The allegations are graphic in nature and not easy to read for anyone who values the women in their lives, be they mothers, wives, girlfriends, grandmothers and daughters.

As our reporting continued, so did the infighting and finger-pointing inside the Courthouse as to where the ultimate blame for these alleged incidents lay, as it became apparent that the conduct Jones is accused of had been going since at least 2015 and that at least three county officials were aware of harassment claims as early as May of that year.

The first 90-page investigative file the radio station received through a public records request contained the first round of allegations made by five women as well as documents that indicated then-Human Resources Director Russell Bearden told County Mayor Terry Frank about the first woman’s claim in May of 2015 of actions that the victim said occurred while she was employed in the office for a week in March of 2015, and was told by the mayor that there was nothing she could do since Jones was an elected official and that she had specifically informed Bearden not to tell County Law Director Jay Yeager because he would, as Bearden later claimed in a sworn statement on February 27th, 2018, Frank said “he would do nothing but cause a political storm.”

Bearden also spoke in a sworn statement on September 26th, 2017 about his conversation with Jones concerning the allegations on May 11th, 2015, in which he initially said that Jones had told him that “the beauty of this is that I don’t have to report to anyone, I don’t have a boss. I could sit in my office butt naked with the door open and masturbate and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

In that sworn statement (pictured below) on September 26th, 2017, Bearden said that he had informed Mayor Frank of the allegations on May 7th, 2015.

After we reported on those developments, a citizen came forward [with documents obtained from Bearden himself] with proof of an email exchange between Bearden and Yeager from May 5th, 2015 in which the two men discuss the allegations that had been made in the form of an exit/resignation letter by a woman who worked in the office for a week in March 2015, as you can read for yourself below.

That allegation was made in an email Bearden received on May 5th, 2015 and, according to the ensuing email exchange (which you can also see in its entirety below), indicates that shortly after receiving the woman’s email, he forwarded it to Yeager.

At 11:16 am the following day, May 6th, 2015, Bearden sent an email to Yeager asking if he had read the “exit interview from [redacted] I sent last night.” The email goes on to seek Yeager’s advice on how to approach the allegations and if there was anything he could do to force Jones to take specialized sexual harassment training “designed to scare the poo out of someone like this” through a Nashville law firm. Yeager’s reply stated that “only the voters” could force him to take the training.

Image of emails obtained by WYSH. The exchange is between Russell Bearden (then HR Director) and Jay Yeager (AC Law Director) from May 6, 2015.

In the sworn statement from February 27th, which we have reported on previously, as well as on separate documents obtained from Yeager’s office that were not included in the original packet, Bearden states in a memo that since he was unable to get in touch with the alleged victim, and was unable to get Jones to take additional sexual harassment training, he closed the investigation.

Below is the sworn statement from February 27th, 2018 by Russell Bearden.

The allegations went uninvestigated and otherwise unaddressed until an anonymous letter to courthouse officials in August of 2017 sparked an investigation that led to the original 90-page document that ultimately ended with an emotional description of the charges by now-HR Director Kim Jeffers-Whitaker during the February 20th, 2018 meeting of the Anderson County Commission, which in turn voted unanimously to censure Jones and ask him to resign. He has not. Since that meeting, three more women have come forward with similar allegations of continued bad behavior by Jones as well as more allegations of intimidation and retaliation, at least one of whom said she was inspired to come forward after hearing media coverage about the other victims of the alleged harassment.

Jones, for his part, has vociferously denied all of the allegations and has accused his opponent in the May 1st Republican primary for the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, Rex Lynch of being behind the timing of their release. Lynch has denied that accusation.

Our reporting of the seeming inconsistencies and conflicting accounts given by Yeager in an email to this station’s owner Ron Meredith (Shown below) in which he plainly stated “I did not know of the 2015 sexual harassment allegation regarding Mr. Jones because Russell was instructed not to tell me and he followed those orders from his direct superior, the mayor. I knew nothing of the incident until briefed in September of 2017.  I knew nothing of the 2016 incident where the husband went to the mayor and made additional allegations, and neither did HR because the mayor did not tell my office or HR,” and the sworn statements given by Bearden (pictured above) when contrasted to the email exchange detailed above, has led to what can only be described as retaliation against Meredith.

At the end of this article, you can read the text of the speech Ron Meredith had prepared to deliver to commissioners during their April 16th meeting outlining that alleged retaliation.

Beginning of email from Yeager to elected officials, including Commissioners, March 14th

From: Jay Yeager <jyeager@aclawdirector.com>
To: Ron Meredith <
ron@merlefm.com>
Sent: Thu, Mar 1, 2018 9:55 am
Subject: RE: FW: Missing Documents

Ron:

The TBI investigation that Russell is referring to had nothing to do with the Sexual Harassment case that is currently at issue.  A totally separate matter involving no employees other than Mr. Jones. I was not “working  with “Russell on the case.  Russell came to me with allegations of a criminal nature and I followed the same procedure I always follow and that is to refer the matter to  law enforcement authorities.  It had nothing to do with county assets, funds or personnel, so it is not something that I would spend time on other than notifying the proper agency of an alleged criminal act. 

I take this job very seriously, and I will never cover-up any allegations of a criminal nature; my past history clearly shows this.  I do not investigate alleged criminal violations because I am not a law enforcement agency and I do not have the resources.  I take an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Tennessee and the Constitution and I take that very serious.  According to some, I should cover these matters up. That will not happen while I am in this job. I do not like these type cases and I do not search them out, because it is a true embarrassment for our county and the citizens we serve.

I did not know of the 2015 sexual harassment allegation regarding Mr. Jones because Russell was instructed not to tell me and he followed those orders from his direct superior, the mayor. I knew nothing of the incident until briefed in September of 2017.  I knew nothing of the 2016 incident where the husband went to the mayor and made additional allegations, and neither did HR because the mayor did not tell my office or HR.*

I call your attention to the statement of the husband in 2016 that states… he needs to be impeached because of the harassment and humiliation and the sexual misconduct from an elected official, he is a predator…

I have attached two documents to this email for your review. You have previously been supplied with the statement from the husband but I’m sure you do not have the additional affidavit.

Ms. Whitaker will search her files for any other documents relative to your request.

Thanks for your concern,

Jay

* = emphasis added

Timeline

5/5/2015 8:11 pm 1st Complaint email sent to HR Director Russell Bearden.

5/5/2015 Russell Bearden forwards the complaint to Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager

5/6/2015 11:16 am Russell Bearden send an email to Law Director Jay Yeager to ask if he had received the “exit letter” (which is on file as a complaint against the Circut Court Clerk)

5/6/2015 11:33 am Law Director Jay Yeager responds that he did receive the email…2 more emails are exchanged on the morning of 5/6/2015 between Russell Bearden and Jay Yeager.

9/17/2017 Russell Bearden give a sworn affidavit regarding a complaint of sexual harassment against Circuit Court Clerk William Jones. This affidavit states Bearden informed Mayor Terry Frank of the alleged harassment on May 7th, 2015.

2/27/2018 Russell Bearden gives a 2nd sworn affidavit restating what he had said in 2017 but adding that he not only did not tell Jay Yeager, but he also did not tell Steve Emert in 2015

3/12/2018 WYSH radio reports and publishes 5/6/2015 email correspondence between Russell Bearden and Jay Yeager regarding sexual harassment complaint that had been sent to Bearden on 5/5/2015.

3/12/2018: WYSH reports on victim #6’s allegations against Jones.

3/15/2018: Victim #7’s allegations reported on by WYSH

3/27/2018: Victim #8’s allegations reported on WYSH

(EDITOR’S NOTE–Jim Harris)

As News Director, I can attest to the number of hours and days we have spent reporting on this story. Through a mix of sources and official records requests to confirm the information we have received, we have put together the above timeline, not to benefit ANYONE politically and not to shine a dark light on Anderson County, but rather to find answers for the alleged victims of William Jones’ alleged behavior, which if true as described in the complaints filed by eight women, is absolutely inexcusable.

Our aim is not to make this a political issue but rather to hold our local government to the standard our leaders claim to hold themselves to and to demand accountability.

The alleged victims deserve answers and both Ron Meredith and myself believe that all the citizens of Anderson County also deserve answers, so that we can put this ugly time in our county’s history behind us and move forward together to address the numerous, serious issues facing the county in 2018.

(Text of Ron Meredith’s speech before Anderson County Commission, Monday April 16th, 2018)

Thank you for allowing me to speak to you this evening.

The reason I am here is to address an email that was sent to all 16 of you and 7 other Anderson County officials at 7:14pm on Wednesday March 14th, of this year by Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager.

In this email, you were invited to Mr Yeager’s office to hear an explanation of the news reports airing on WYSH beginning on “Ask Your Neighbor” on Monday March 12th of this year.

These news reports were about emails he wrote, he sent and he participated in.

Not me.

Not my station.

HIM.

He is upset because we found them and reported on them. Fact is, the exact time line with supporting documents as proof will post on the wyshradio.com web site at the moment I finish speaking.

So Mr Yeager calls his meeting (or in some cases just in conversation) and proceeded to level a number of accusations, like that I, and my radio station are working with or for the Mayor.

That is a lie, an absolute lie.

Can I be more clear?

In fact, since I bought my first radio station in 1990 I have only revealed 3 times who I was for in a local election.

I endorsed Jim Hackworth against John Ragan, Zach Farrah when he ran against Brandon Fisher, and Weston Wamp he he ran against Chuck Fleischmann. You see how much good it did them.

But that on its face is not that bad to say we are working for any candidate even though it is not true.

However, that is not where our Law director stopped.

He went on to tell you behind closed doors and in personal conversations that I had tried to manipulate the outcome of bids on projects here in Anderson County and THAT was why I was directing unfavorable news toward him, and that was why I was not a credible source.

How many of you did he tell that story to? Well, I ask you, why am I here, why am I not in jail?

Because it is a lie, it is not true!

It is slander, ya know, the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.

Luckily, enough of you and others heard him say it.

Let me tell you this, in no uncertain terms: the allegations Jay Yeager made about me and my company and others involved are not true.

Sadly, that seems to be the way business is done in Anderson County these days.

In open meeting we heard that we don’t need a title search on the property we are purchasing for the convenience center. Now it seems the property is landlocked.

Yes we did.

We all remember: Oh, I’ve spoken to Mr. Cappellio and he has no problem bringing the seating. Wrong, not true.

Oh, it comes with 122 parking spots and that is great because parking is a major issue at the existing location, and we want as many Seniors to participate in our programs as we can possibly get in there .

Not true.

And who can forget, oh, we already had it inspected by the City of Clinton and they gave it thumbs up.

That was not the case.

And now you are being told that Ron Meredith tried to manipulate the bid process in Anderson County.

That also is not true. It is a lie.

My question to Commission is, “Is this OK?”

Is this where we are now in Anderson County?

If you don’t like what is being reported on the news you can accuse them of criminal activity to discredit them?

Are you OK with 23 Anderson County officials being invited to the Law Director’s office to go sit down and listen to the Law Director,who is being paid by taxpayer money, accuse a private citizen of bid rigging. The Anderson County Law Director called me a criminal.

I would suggest the Law Director could find a better use of his time, like maybe doing title searches or actually checking on seating instead of using his taxpayer salary to slander a citizen.

Who are you okay with him accusing next, one of your kids, or maybe grandchildren? Will you sit quietly if he does that??

I wonder if the Voters of Anderson County are going to sit quietly?? After all, you commissioners are all running for re-election.

Maybe if you and those in our fee offices are not willing to step in and mitigate this chaos, the voters will.

I sincerely want to thank you for your time and tolerance and urge you to check out wyshradio.com for a detailed time line of the very beginning what happened, when it happened, who knew it happened, and when they knew it. And we have much more to come.

I also ask you not to lose sight of what really matters here and that is the alleged victims involved in the actual story we began covering that upset Mr Yeager.

Thank you again for your time.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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3 comments

  1. I can personally attest to the character of Ron Meredith. I worked on his campaign and never seen a more honest, caring, smart and hard working individual in Anderson County. It is an absolute shame that we have allowed our local government to get to such a point. Unfortunately, this has been the case for many years and we are still seeing it get worse.

    One thing to note here is how Ron Meredith has been consistent in presenting FACTS in the media, regardless of what his personal and political leanings might be. (For the record, I don’t know what they are, I’m just making a point).

    Appreciate you Ron and giving everybody the full details.

  2. Ron, thank you for your work and honest reporting. The personal attacks are appalling by Director Yeager. I would recommend action to the Board of Professional Responsibility of the State of Tennessee as his conduct seems unethical and against what he is required to uphold as a lawyer in the state.

    http://www.tbpr.org/for-the-public/file-complaint

    Regarding what you could do concerning the lies stated against you and behind closed door meetings to harm your reputation, they seem to violate a broad range of rules in the code of Professional Conduct.

    Rule 8.4
    “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
    (a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;…
    (c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation;
    (d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;
    (e) state or imply an ability to influence a tribunal or a governmental agency or official on grounds unrelated to the merits of, or the procedures governing, the matter under consideration;”

    (c) & (d) seem to certainly be triggered by his conduct in regards to lying blatantly about the emails which you hold and proof of the meeting to conduct a personal attack on your company behind closed doors with your email as proof. He cannot claim whether legal or illegal because the standard for attorneys is higher especially as an attorney for the government in Tennessee. You have the evidence and statements necessary in order to seek punishment from the Board of Professional Responsibility of Tennessee or at the very least a hard look at his conduct as an attorney.

    Also see comment 7 of Rule 8.4
    “[7] Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of lawyers. The same is true of abuse of positions of private trust such as trustee, executor, administrator, guardian, agent and officer, director, or manager of a corporation or other organization.”

    comment 5 of Rule 8.4
    “[5] Paragraph (c) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Such conduct reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.”

    Preamble Paragraph 6
    “[6] A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demon- strate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials. While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process.”

    Regarding the closed door meeting slandering your company, Preamble par. 19
    “[19] Under various legal provisions, including constitutional, statutory, and common law, the responsibilities of government lawyers may differ from those of lawyers in private client-lawyer relationships…. Government lawyers in Tennessee are also subject to the Open Meetings Act as interpreted by the Tennessee courts.”

    Rule 1.0(d)
    “(d) “Fraud” or “fraudulent” denotes an intentionally false or misleading statement of material fact, an intentional omission from a statement of fact of such additional information as would be necessary to make the statements made not materially misleading, and such other conduct by a person intended to deceive a person or tribunal with respect to a material issue in a proceeding or other matter.”

    Rule 8.4 comment 2
    “Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice.Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category.”

    If he indeed was making claims of bid rigging, which would be illegal and pursued in court, he would violate Rule 3.6 by speaking about it extrajudicially. (Not saying that you did it, but if he is willing to make those claims, he is violating a rule as an attorney.)

    “(a) A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investi- gation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likeli- hood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter…
    (d) No lawyer associated in a firm or government agency with a lawyer subject to paragraph (a) shall make a statement prohibited by paragraph (a).”
    Also comment 5 of Rule 3.6

    Ron, there is plenty here to make a professional complaint against Jay and his duties that he is violating as a lawyer and government attorney. I would recommend that someone make a formal complaint against him and with the false statements made against you, and at the very least you have evidence of a personal vendetta against you in scheduling a private meeting and lying about the email where he knew of the report earlier.

    I commend you for your work, but as an attorney he should be held to the right standard. This is not political, and I would gladly let you use my legal research in regard to his conduct.

  3. Good job, Ron, & all the WYSH staff.

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