Investigation underway into evidence handling within Lawrence Co - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Investigation underway into evidence handling within Lawrence Co. Sheriff's Office

Tim McWhorter (Source: WAFF file) Tim McWhorter (Source: WAFF file)
Sheriff Mitchell (Source: WAFF 48 News) Sheriff Mitchell (Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News) (Source: WAFF 48 News)

There's tension within the ranks of the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office. 

The chief of staff and operations, Cpt. Tim McWhorter, has been suspended with pay and he is fighting to clear his name over what he says are false accusations.

The controversy between members of the top brass is connected to the handling of things in their evidence room. An investigation is underway over concerns of wrong doing.

McWhorter has several other duties, including head of patrol and the agency's spokesman and he was also the evidence custodian.

Several weeks ago, the chief of investigations was given those duties and McWhorter says he learned that the sheriff  had received third hand information about the possible mishandling of evidence.

At first, McWhorter says the sheriff told him that since the information was third hand, an investigation was not warranted.

In an effort to clear his name and set the record straight, McWhorter requested an investigation and the sheriff granted it, hiring a neutral third party to conduct it.

The issue now is over the fact that McWhorter has been suspended with pay during the investigation, which he says according to the employee handbook is a disciplinary action.. He thought he was just placed on leave and has denied any wrongdoing.

Both he and the sheriff declined an interview Friday due to the ongoing investigation, but Sheriff Mitchell said suspending someone with pay is not a disciplinary action. He added if that that were the case, McWhorter would be suspended without pay.

McWhorter shared a letter he sent to the sheriff on Jan. 22, in which he requested the investigation into any allegations or accusations that led to the recent actions taken to reassign his duties as evidence custodian and administrator of the evidence tracking system.

"I have spoken with you about this matter and you indicated that an accusation was made and delivered to you third hand, that I may have done something inappropriate with evidence while assigned as custodian of the evidence room," McWhorter wrote, "While you did not elaborate on the specifics of the accusation, it appears it was of a nature that you felt it necessary to replace me as the custodian of evidence and the administrator of the evidence tracking system."

"These actions were done without explanation to me. As I have previously said, I have never done anything intentionally inappropriate with evidence, or any other property while acting as custodian of evidence," he said.

McWhorter says information about his reassignment and rumors of wrongdoing have traveled throughout the department and the community and impacted his standing within the agency.

"I am greatly concerned with the repercussions that have followed the handling of this situation and I wish to clear my name from any false accusations that may have been made," he stated in his letter to the sheriff. "This is a matter than I believe needs to be investigated further to help exonerate me and repair the damage that has been inflicted on my reputation."

Mitchell responded with a letter to McWhorter, granting his request for an investigation.

"In order to ensure an unbiased investigation, I have requested an outside agency to conduct the investigation," the sheriff said.

He informed McWhorter that he was suspended with pay, effective immediately and told him to turn in all of his equipment.

McWhorter declined to comment further on the matter on Friday.

"I simply wanted to make sure that the great citizens of Lawrence County, who I have served for almost 20 years and my fellow colleagues in the Law Enforcement Community knew the facts that have led to my current situation," he said in an email.

Here is McWhorter's full statement to the media:

Chief Staff and Operations Tim McWhorter, who is a 19 year law enforcement veteran with an unblemished career working for three different Sheriff’s, was put on paid leave after he requested an investigation be conducted into allegations of inappropriate conduct while performing his duties as custodian of evidence for the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office. Chief McWhorter has been with the Sheriff’s Office his entire career and has worked in every division within the agency. He has held the rank of Jailer, School Resource Officer, Deputy, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain and most recently Chief of Staff and Operations.

McWhorter was previously a Captain assigned as Chief of Investigations for 7 years during which time he solved hundreds of cases including the murder of Jose Ruiz, for which he arrested Jose Martinez. Martinez later confessed to him that he had committed over 35 murders in 12 states over a 30 year period. Chief McWhorter has served in his current capacity since 2014.

McWhorter was initially assigned as the custodian of evidence in 2007 when Sheriff Mitchell entered office and continued his duties in that capacity after his most recent promotion due to the newly assigned Chief Investigator’s lack of experience. McWhorter, whose additional duties include Public Information Officer, head of the Patrol Division, manager of grant funds, Department Administrator of the National Crime Information Computer (NCIC) System, and second in command to the Sheriff, relinquished his duties as Evidence Custodian approximately 3 weeks ago after Sheriff Mitchell informed him that he wanted the Chief Investigator to assume the duties. McWhorter did not have any issue with this change.  After receiving information of unverified rumors of possible wrong doing, Chief McWhorter consulted with Sheriff Mitchell and was informed that in fact the evidence custodian change was made in reference to information Sheriff Mitchell had received third hand pertaining to an allegation of possible wrong doing on the part of McWhorter. McWhorter said that Mitchell did not give him the specifics of the allegation. He said that he asked Mitchell at that time, if an investigation was going to be conducted.  Mitchell told him that since the information was third hand, an investigation was not warranted. Chief McWhorter said that he was informed that the change was simply precautionary and that there would be no disciplinary action against him. Lastly, McWhorter was advised to continue his duties as usual.

Concerned about his reputation and standing within the department and law enforcement community, he presented the Sheriff with a letter requesting an investigation be conducted in an effort preserve his integrity. Chief McWhorter was informed by the Sheriff that his integrity was not in question. The Sheriff did however tell McWhorter that an investigation would be conducted as soon as it was possible. Four days later, Chief McWhorter was in the performance of his duties while filling in on a patrol shift due to the department being short 4 deputies, when he was contacted by Mitchell and asked to meet with him. During their meeting, McWhorter was presented a letter stating that his request for an investigation was being granted and that he was being suspended with pay. McWhorter’s letter also stated that he was to turn in all Sheriff’s Department equipment that had been assigned to him.  He complied with the directive, believing that he was on leave rather than an actual disciplinary suspension. Chief McWhorter was under the impression that his absence was needed to preserve the integrity of the pending investigation. McWhorter was later informed by way of media that his absence was actually a “suspension”, which defined by the Lawrence County Employee Handbook, is a disciplinary action.

McWhorter vehemently denies any wrong doing in this matter, and has no idea why a disciplinary suspension has been issued against him. Chief McWhorter said that he does not understand why Mitchell issued a misleading statement.

McWhorter was also the subject of a domestic violence investigation in December 2017, but that is unrelated to his suspension.

A report from the Decatur Police Department reveals McWhorter's girlfriend accused him of physically assaulting her on Dec. 8. The police report states she told officers McWhorter showed up drunk at her home, squeezed her arm hard enough to leave a bruise, and threw her against a kitchen counter.

Officers became aware of the incident during a welfare check on her on Dec. 28.

McWhorter was not charged, but there is a report on file third-degree domestic violence and harassment.

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