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FINES, FEES, AND FELONY IMPOSED BY CRIMINAL “LAW ENFORCERS” IN SEVIER COUNTY

by Sharon Rondeau

Do the judiciary in Sevier County, TN know what “justice” is?

(Sep. 1, 2012) — On August 21, The Post & Email published an initial story on former Sevier County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Lipton, who was convicted in March of this year of assault against his neighbor when he was actually himself assaulted by the neighbor with his four-wheeler.

The dispute began after Lipton admonished a 13-year-old boy for operating a four-wheeler with a toddler “straddling the gas tank.”  A short time later, the boy’s grandfather arrived on a four-wheeler, punched Lipton in the face, and ran over him with the vehicle.  After sheriff’s detectives arrived at the scene, it was determined that they could not make an arrest and that Lipton and his neighbor could pursue charges against each other if they so chose.

Lipton went to the magistrate’s office the next day but was prevented from taking out a warrant against his neighbor, while the neighbor was allowed to file charges against Lipton which culminated in Lipton spending time in the jail managed by the sheriff’s department where he had worked for nearly ten years.  At the time of his arrest, he was still in his probationary period as a deputy for the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department.

The district attorney did not return calls placed by Lipton regarding the magistrate’s refusal to allow him to obtain a warrant against his neighbor.  Lipton has filed a $2,000,000 lawsuit against Henry Sutton, the man who assaulted him.

A jury took “less than one hour” to convict Lipton in March of this year despite evidence that the state’s witness lied on the witness stand.  A forum on the website “Topix” shows several commenters’ support for Lipton and their belief that the charges against him were concocted. [Warning:  Topix appears to be an unmoderated site and contains strong and offensive profanity.]

If laws passed in 1984 had been enforced, evidence against Lipton would have been reviewed by a district grand jury, not a grand jury drawn only from members of Sevier County.  Recently, when the McMinn County grand jury foreman was confronted with the question of whether or not the grand jury operated legally in light of the 1984 legislation, he was unable to respond.

Lipton is currently unemployed, the father of six, and would like to return to law enforcement if his name can be cleared.

A group of “concerned citizens” formed an organization to battle corruption in Sevier County, which, like other counties in eastern Tennessee, has reported deep public corruption to The Post & Email over the last two years.

Lipton said that Henry Sutton, the neighbor who accused him and prevailed in court, has placed false advertisements in the local newspaper and is under investigation for fraud.  “The office of the Inspector General already investigated some potential TennCare issues, and there may be some Social Security/Disability issues as well,” Lipton told us.  “His wife and his daughter are criminals for dealing drugs.”

In describing the events leading up to his trial, Lipton told us:

Before you go to trial, there’s a whole lengthy process including a preliminary hearing.  The preliminary hearing itself was transcribed.  I got a copy of the transcription afterward.  Let me tell you how dirty the district attorney‘s office is:  I was reading these transcripts provided to me by my attorney, David Wigler of Knoxville, and I noticed the district attorney had his client, the state’s witness, who was my accuser, on the stand.  He asked him, “Mr. Sutton, on November 16, 2009, why were you on a four-wheeler to begin with?”  He claimed that he has arthritis and has a hard time getting dressed in the morning.  But he said, “I was meeting the county health inspector, Daniel, to have a septic system put in behind Mr. Lipton.”  When I was reading those transcripts, something told me to find that “Daniel” guy, so I found him and it turned out that I had met him months prior because he had been out at my house investigating the false claim that somebody had called in that I had had raw sewage running across my property.  So I was familiar with this guy’s face.  At the time, when I asked who called, he said, “Ah, I can’t tell you who it is; you probably know who it is, but if this person calls me, there’s going to be a problem with this allegation.”

So I said, “Daniel, I have to ask you a question.  Were you, on November 16, 2009, anywhere around my property meeting with Mr. Sutton?”  He said, “Well, let me look in my log books.”  He looked in his log books, and he said, “No.”  I said, “Will you tell that to my attorney?” and he said, “Yes.”  So he told my attorney that that was totally false: “That guy swore to it under oath, but I was not with that man that day in history as he claims, nor did I have any appointments with him.”  So my attorney went to the Assistant District Attorney, George Ioannides; the three of us got together and my attorney told him, “We have a real problem here.  Your client lied under oath.”  He said, “I’m going to look into this, and if this is, in fact, true, that my client lied, come December 6, I’m going to nolle prosequi this case against Mark.”  Ioannides contacted the witness to tell him that Daniel had said he was not with him on November 16.  He also afforded his client the luxury of coming up with two additional names of people who could have potentially been with him that day, and he named David McKinney and Grant Dunn.  I know one of those men, and I contacted them, and they both said that “The district attorney called us, and we told him ‘No, we weren’t with his client that day.'”

So here we are, December 6, back in court and expecting a nolle prosequi.  My attorney walked down to the front and he shook his head. George Iaonnides handed him a piece of paper, and my attorney walked up to me.  He said, “Mark, I don’t agree with this, but they’re trying to see if you’ll plead to disorderly conduct with a 90-day diversion.  I said, “No, we’re not here for a plea.  We’re here for a dismissal.  I’m not doing that.”  He said, “If we don’t, we’re going to trial,” and I said, “OK, let’s go to trial.”

While this thing was in the stage of getting set for trial, my attorney said, “If you want to file a complaint against this guy with the Board of Professional Responsibility based on the fact that he didn’t do what he said he was going to do…” I have a letter between my attorney and George Iaonnides that said, “You promised a dismissal but you didn’t come through with it.  What’s going on?”  And George said, “I’m not ready to conclude my client lied.”  Well, he asked the witness that his client named under oath on two separate occasions if he was meeting with him that day, and he was told, “No.”  So now he’s trying to cover his tracks by saying that he’s not ready to conclude, even though he’s been told face-to-face, that his client lied to our witness.

I filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility (BOPR), and I guess that just added fuel to his mischievous and devious fire, and all of a sudden, he started to conduct an investigation.  We went to trial, but before that, my attorney, David Wigler, said, “Mark, I have to ask you a question.  Do you know a Ms. So-and-So?” and I said, “No.”  I said, “Why?” and he said, “Attorney Bryan Delius called me up, and some woman has come forward with information regarding your traffic stop from 2009.  Apparently she knows a lot.  She was in a 15-year relationship  with one of the chiefs down there at the sheriff’s department.  She’s an older lady and not some 20-year-old girl angry with her boyfriend.

So I said, “I don’t want to talk to this woman; we need to get her in touch with the FBI.”  I contacted a friend of mine who put an FBI agent in touch with the woman.  The FBI agent interviewed the woman for about three hours, and afterward, I got a phone call from him saying, “Mark, her evidence is very credible.  What happened was her boyfriend, Deputy Chief Earl Clinton, at the time of my traffic stop, was directed by the sheriff’s office to cover everything up while the TBI was investigating.  She told the FBI agent this: that he was the one who was directed by the sheriff to get everybody’s stories on the same page.  The FBI agent said that she had very credible evidence that the investigation was tampered with.

Back when Sheriff Ron Seals was cleared of the investigation, I got a call from some angry citizens, and they said, “Mark, we know your traffic stop took place.  If we raised the money for a polygraph test, would you take it?” and I said, “Absolutely.”  So they raised the $600 and I went and took a polygraph and passed it.  A retired FBI agent from Knoxville administered it.  It was put on a website for the world to see.  That really got the sheriff angry, but it didn’t do anything as far as getting another investigation going.  We now know in 2012 that he covered it up.

Consent form for polygraph examination signed by Mark Lipton
Page 1 of polygraph test results stating “No Deception Indicated”
Page 2 of polygraph exam
Page 3 and final of polygraph examination report

The FBI agent went to the U.S. attorney, and the Assistant U.S. attorney said, “There’s nothing here federally, but there’s a lot here for the state to examine.”  The Assistant U.S. Attorney is Chuck Atchley, whose father is Charles Atchley, a nice, wealthy man in this county who contributes to the sheriff in question.  We have the canceled checks.  So how much of an investigation do you think is actually going to take place?  “My dad’s friend is so-and-so, and I’m put in a position as to whether I’m going to have him investigated or not…”  So he told the federal agent that there was nothing there for him; “send it back to the state.”

Recently, a complaint was filed with the Department of Justice by the same citizens who supported me and raised the money for the polygraph examination.  I have also reached out to senators and congressmen.  On August 17, I got a letter from Rep. Phil Roe which says that he was “following through with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on your behalf regarding your issues with your local law enforcement.  As soon as I receive a reply, I’ll be back in touch with you.”  So now there’s a Department of Justice complaint that’s been filed by people outraged over my prosecution, and there’s this.  I still have a chance at an appeal, but I cannot financially afford it.

Lipton’s case is reported at the National Police Defense Foundation, where a $5,000 reward is offered for anyone coming forward with exonerating evidence in his case.  “They investigated my situation, and they said, ‘You should never have been prosecuted.’  Despite most of the evidence techs being DNA-certified, no DNA was run on my gun.  I took a polygraph in regard to that incident and passed that as well.  I raised the money and had another retired FBI agent give me the test.  I told him to ask me, ‘On November 16, 2009, at any point in time, did you pull a weapon on anybody in the Sutton family?’  He asked me that one simple question, and I said, ‘No,’ and it came back that I was telling the truth,” Lipton said.  “I didn’t expose my weapon to anybody on that day in history.”

Lipton’s case went to trial in early 2012. He told The Post & Email that District Attorney George Iaonnides allowed his witness to testify “knowing that what he was saying was perjured.”  The judge reportedly had questions about “a lot of discrepancies” in the witness’s testimony.  “He was afforded the opportunity to throw it out, but the judge wouldn’t do it,” Lipton said. “He said, ‘I’m going to leave it up to the jury.'”

The inconsistencies in the state’s witness’s account was not the only corruption allowed to affect the outcome of Lipton’s trial, who then revealed the following:

The rookie police officer who was on scene the day of the incident left Sevier County shortly afterward.  He had been on duty for only about six weeks when he left for a better-paying position in White County.  During my trial, he was subpoenaed to come back to Sevier County to testify against me.  I told my attorney all along that I had taken the gun out of my pocket, I gave the guy the gun;, he had taken it and put it in his waistband, and my accuser’s daughter saw it.  My attorney met with the officer out in the hallway before he was put on the stand and asked him the same question.  He came back in the courtroom and said, “Mark, I just spoke with Robert Ellwood; you’re right, he told me out in the hallway that he put it in his waistband, and that’s the first time anybody saw it.”  Shortly thereafter, he put Robert Ellwood on the stand, who said under oath, “I took the gun from him,” and my attorney said, “Wait a second. Didn’t you just tell me out in the hallway that you…” and Judge Vance slapped the gavel down and said, “The jury will disregard that comment.”  He told the jury that he took the gun from me and secured it in his car; he never said that he put it in his waistband and that’s when the girl saw it.  So he lied under oath.  It never made sense to me why he lied, and I thought, “Why would he do that?”

Guess where he works again?  The week after testifying against me, he got a job better than he had when he left right back at the Sevier County Sheriff’s Department.

Let me tell you what the guy who accused me alleged that I did to him.  Think about this.  He alleges that he was on the road and his four-wheeler had run out of gas.  He alleged that I came up to him; he was sitting on a four-wheeler, leaning to the left-hand side of it. He said I came running up to him with a gun in my hand; that I slapped him so hard on the left side of his head, causing him injury, that he rolled over the handlebars, fell into the ditch, and both sets of his false teeth came out, and then I jumped on him and put the gun to his back.  Well, wouldn’t you think he’d be begging for medical attention if he was hit that hard?

Twenty-four hours after the incident, Channel 8 News came out and did a story on me, because they knew it was fake, and they interviewed him.  He didn’t have a mark on his face.  Not a single mark, cut, scratch or bruise.  That same photograph was shown to the jury.   This man was in his late 50s or early 60s; his wife got up on the stand and said, “He has arthritis; I put his pants on him every day; he doesn’t have much of an education; he isn’t capable of doing all this.”  The trial was in March, and about a month ago, I photographed him operating a backhoe, climbing a ladder, etc., even though he claimed he couldn’t do anything.

So we had the assistant attorney general, who by an independent witness was told twice that he wasn’t with his client when he said he was, but allowed his client to testify to that.  The family lied on the stand.  The grandson said I grabbed him and exposed the butt end of a gun to him and that I threatened his life.  After they convicted me, I took a second lie detector test and sent the results to them.  The cop lied on the stand.  There were a lot of friends who were spectators, one of whom was an attorney.  He said to me, “Mark, I’m here watching what’s going on and I just can’t believe they convicted you.  They had two assistant attorneys general tag-teaming your case:  George Ioannides and Ashley (I don’t know her last name).”  He said, “That’s generally something they do for murder cases, not for an assault case.  They’re out to get you, and I work here.  I’ve never seen them try to get somebody so badly so that the state spends that kind of money to have two district attorneys prosecuting an assault case.”

Sheriff Ron Seals was appointed, then elected in 2008, as sheriff of Sevier County, home to “Dollywood”

Lipton continued:

“From the point I was convicted to the day of sentencing, I took the polygraph and sent a certified copy to the judge.  While they’re not admissible, they’re absolutely a tool that can be used in consideration.  The judge had made a comment that there were a lot of discrepancies in the state’s witness’s testimony, so to further elaborate on that, I sent him my lie detector test to see if he could just drop the case, or if he felt that he must sentence me because I was sure there was a lot of pressure on him to get me because of the vengefulness over the traffic stop, maybe he could do something so that I could get my career back.  Maybe he could get me judicial diversion.  Nope.  He threatened to put me in jail for five years; he would not give me judicial diversion because he said it displeased the court that I had tried to maintain my innocence throughout the whole hearing.  Now if you’re innocent, why would you all of a sudden decide that, “OK, I’m guilty now,” because that’s a form of perjury.”

In May, Lipton was sentenced to five years’ probation; a $10,000 fine; 100 hours of community service; eight weeks of anger management classes, which as of this writing have been completed; and court costs.  In addition, Lipton owes his attorney $20,000 in fees.  The deadline to request a new trial is September 10.

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  1. This story Part One & Part Two should be used to enlist more people into “law enforcement” careers! I have always supported “law enforcement” and our Military in every way. These things DO happen in Corporations, Military, Government and Law Enforcement careers in every state, they just have different “ways and means” to cover the stories up and “sweep them under the rug” and keep the truth buried. But, once in while, the truth has a way of “getting out” through disgruntled workers, people that don’t sleep well at night knowing they are witness to ongoing wrong or lawbreaking, people with a “conscience”, people that are “God fearing” and not “Godless.” Somtimes being honest has a price to pay and it looks like going back to the 1984 Tennessee Judicial Law Change may also help. Who will help this young man and protect him from the evil lurking inside the system? The Post & Email looks like a good start! Amen