As we continue to delve into the issue of who knew about the serious sexual harassment allegations against Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones, and when, more emails have come to light that seem to indicate that, contrary to statements from current and former officials, more people knew than originally reported.
As we have reported on the air, online and on “Ask Your Neighbor,” former HR Director Russell Bearden said that the first complaint he had received had come into his email inbox on the evening of May 5th, 2015. In two sworn statements, Bearden stated that he had told County Mayor Terry Frank about the allegations, and in the second sworn statement given on February 27th of this year, that she had expressly told him not to tell County Law Director Jay Yeager about the complaint.
Yeager, in an email to WYSH Radio owner Ron Meredith, said that he did not learn of the allegations of harassment against Jones until late summer 2017, when an anonymous letter detailing the accusations was delivered to the Courthouse, and that only the Mayor had been told. His statement to Meredith repeated Bearden’s assertion that the mayor had directed him to stay quiet about the issue.
After we reported on that, a private citizen delivered an email exchange between Bearden and Yeager from May 6th, 2015 in which they discuss the allegations and Yeager informs Bearden that “only the voters” could force Jones as an elected official to undergo sexual harassment training with a Nashville law firm.
Since the news of the allegations made by now eight women against Jones was first reported, those two men have stood firm in their claim that only the mayor knew.
Following her appearance on “Ask Your Neighbor” on Tuesday, Mayor Frank provided WYSH with documents she herself had obtained through an open records request. Among those was a statement from IT Director Brian Young (pictured here) that he could find no trace of an email from the original complainant to Bearden in the former HR Director’s email, writing “I cannot verify this particular email’s existence as it’s either been deleted or never was delivered to this account.”
Further, the mayor also provided an email from Bearden to then-Trustee Rodney Archer, who was the Chair of the County Human Resource Committee, dated May 6th, 2015 in which Bearden seeks Archer’s guidance and included the purported email as an attachment. Archer replied, according to the documents, that “This is a first for me. I’m not really sure what to say. I can get involved if you think it is appropriate. I’m not really sure if it is or not. Thoughts?”
A subsequent email (pictured below) from Bearden to Mayor Frank on May 11th, 2015 says “The meeting with the official went better than I ever expected on Friday! It was very well received and was truly concerned. He has agreed to go to class, in a few weeks. It will take that long to set it up. The attorney is also preparing a letter stating that this type behavior would not be covered under the County’s insurance policy.” This backs up a memo he sent to the Mayor later that month–May 29th–in which he wrote: “I repeatedly tried to contact [the complainant], by phone, to discuss the differences in the stories and to try and get any additional information. I have [the complainant’s] resignation text to [an employee’s] phone in which she made no mention of any type of harassment. Based on the two matching statements (from Jones and the staff member) and the inability to get [the complainant] to contact me back, I consider this matter closed unless more information comes forward.”
According to the documents, Bearden did forward the original complaint email to an attorney at Ogletree Jenkins, a Nashville law firm that offers sexual harassment training, bringing the total number of people who “officially” knew about it to five.
On a related note, a records request by WYSH for all of Yeager’s email correspondence with Commissioners and other elected officials NOT protected by privilege from February 1st, 2018 to April 12th was denied because, according to the response, that information is not able to be shared under state law, specifically T.C.A 23-3105 (attorney-client privilege). We are exploring our options to obtain NON-PRIVILEGED communications between Yeager and those other officials.
As more information becomes available, we will pass it along to you.