A top Knox County judge said Monday that he expects to meet with local leaders in the coming weeks to talk about errors originating from the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office that have led to a number of wrongful arrests.
"Anytime a person's liberty is taken away for any amount of time, it's a very serious concern to us and it should be to everyone," Knox County General Sessions Court Judge Andrew Jackson VI told WBIR Channel10 in an exclusive interview.
Jackson, the current presiding sessions court judge, said he's not sure how many wrongful arrests have occurred, but that "one is too many."
"We don't like to put people in jail," he said. "But we really don't like to put people in jail who don't belong."
His interview comes in the wake of a WBIR investigation published Friday that discovered dozens of instances of errors that stemmed from the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office and led to residents wrongly taken into custody or kept in jail for days, sometimes weeks, past their scheduled release dates.
Records obtained through the state's open records act, and interviews with top ranking county leaders suggest that the mistakes date back to at least July 2012 and occurred as recently as early September.
Officials say criminal court clerk's office workers often fail to update the county's Justice Information Management System, or JIMS, which attorneys, the sheriff's office, and the district attorney's office rely on for the latest information and to make decisions on whether a defendant is up-to-date on payments, court appearances, or community service.
Officials also say that the clerks sometimes fail to bring warrants to the judges to dismiss once the defendant completes his or her probationary requirements.
That means judges often issue invalid warrants and authorities act on them. It also means that some defendants have spent more time in jail than they should.
"We rely on these records to show if these things have been done or not," Jackson said.
Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey, whose office includes Fourth Circuit Court, General Sessions and Criminal Court, told WBIR on Friday that she doesn't see a systemic problem, but rather isolated mistakes few and far between.
McCroskey, who has held the office for five years, also said her workers are properly trained and that one employee she says was responsible for some of the mistakes was let go.
She declined to comment on Monday.
Jackson on Monday suggested that officials should continue training "to make sure everyone understands the importance of making sure that the records are accurately kept."
"For the most part they are, but it only takes one mistake, and we don't want to see anyone go to jail who is not supposed to," he said. "We'll meet to discuss further the ongoing process."
He said he expects the meetings to include representatives from the criminal court clerk's office, the other four sessions court judges, the Knox County Sheriff's Office, the county's information technology department, and the Knox County District Attorney General's Office.
In addition, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said he also would like to discuss the matter further with local leaders.
"Somebody dropped the ball, obviously," he said. "I think what's going to have to happen is that they're going to have to go back through those records and find out where the mistakes was made and hold those people responsible."
The mayor added: "I worry if there's somebody in the jail right now that shouldn't be there because of a piece of paper (that) wasn't filed or some bureaucrat wasn't doing their job. That concerns me greatly."
On Monday, Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones also addressed the WBIR investigation during the Knox County Commission work session.
He said he was upset that McCroskey blamed him for mistakes leading to at least one wrong arrest, noting that "no errors were committed by the Knox County Sheriff's Office that led to anyone being arrested wrongly."
"As a matter of fact, we went above and beyond what we should have done by checking even making verbal checks, to find out if warrants were valid," he said.
The sheriff added: "When we make mistakes, we correct them. We don't blame other agencies and departments. We correct them and we move on."
Contact Mike Donila at firstname.lastname@example.org and Eleanor Beck at email@example.com.