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by Sharon Rondeau

Part of Mayor Tim Yates’ “welcome” to prospective visitors and newcomers to Monroe County states, “We have so much to offer in Monroe County. Whether you are relocating or planning a trip, please consider our county. I think you will receive a warm welcome and will want to visit us again. Come see us!”

(Dec. 12, 2014) — On November 25, Christian missionary George Joseph Raudenbush III was convicted on seven counts of vehicular infractions stemming from an incident on December 30, 2010 in the town of Tellico Plains, TN.

Last December, Raudenbush’s initial convictions from 2011 were reversed by an appellate court on the grounds that he had been denied his constitutional right to defense counsel in his August 2011 trial, after which he spent more than two years in state prison.

The Post & Email interviewed Raudenbush following the announcement of the latest verdict, which he said appeared to have been predetermined. We also spoke with an eyewitness from the second trial who also had first-hand knowledge of the condition of Raudenbush’s vehicle after it was impounded after Raudenbush’s encounter with Tellico Plains police officer Brian Millsaps.

Raudenbush reported that Millsaps broke his driver’s side window and struck him on the head and hand with the flashlight, then reached for his gun on the evening of December 30, 2010.  Several weeks before, Raudenbush and several other missionary elders had filed a criminal complaint with the Knoxville FBI after then-Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens ordered a youth missions trailer whose contents were valued at approximately $120,000 confiscated.

The seizure of the trailer presumably occurred out of retaliation for Raudenbush and others having distributed literature in the community about local government corruption under the auspices of the now-offline Tennessee Christian Citizens Against Corruption.

Police brutality is well-documented within the sheriff’s department, and corruption involving law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, court clerks, grand juries, trial juries, drug dealers, and possibly a large community bank is systemic in the area and throughout Tennessee, including the governor’s office, regardless of which political party is in power.

Millsaps had been fired from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department for the use of “excessive force” but was then hired by the Tellico Plains Police Department.

Last year, CNN reported that Tennessee possesses the highest usage of methamphetamines in the nation.  Eastern Tennessee has been the focus of several FBI investigations resulting in arrests involving county sheriffs and elected officials.

In 2006, Raudenbush was nearly killed by two attackers who beat him to the point of causing internal hemorrhaging after Raudenbush had filed a lawsuit involving an out-of-state man and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, then headed by Sheriff Bill Bivens.

Raudenbush believe that Bivens was the provocateur in the attack from which he made a full recovery.  In early 2011, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.), while incarcerated in the Monroe County jail, reported that the sheriff’s department had “taken out a hit” on former Republican Elections Commissioner Jim Miller, who was murdered on July 17, 2010.  Miller’s likely killers have never faced justice, but rather, were sentenced to federal prison for crimes related to methamphetamine production.

During Raudenbush’s trial last month, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood did not allow crucial 911 tapes of calls Raudenbush made for help after he was stopped by Millsaps to be presented as evidence to the jury.  Following the guilty verdicts on all charges, Blackwood expedited the sentencing hearing to December 15, having stated, “I want this done before Christmas.”  Raudenbush reported that sentencing hearings normally take place several months or even a year following conviction.

On Friday morning, The Post & Email contacted Blackwood’s office and reached a voice-messaging system, where we left a message asking why it was important to Blackwood to sentence Raudenbush “before Christmas.”  We also asked for comment on the report from an eyewitness to the trial stating that the jury appeared to have been “rigged.”  The Post & Email will advise if any response is received.

The same eyewitness told The Post & Email shortly after Raudenbush was arrested nearly four years ago that the condition of the vehicle which Raudenbush had been driving did not substantiate the claim made by Millsaps that Raudenbush had tried to ram it into Millsaps’ police car several times that night before fleeing.  “There is not even the smallest scratch or dent in the car,” the eyewitness reported at the time.

There have been other cases tried in Monroe County wherein the word of a police officer was taken over that of the defendant without any documentation, dashcam video, or corroborating witnesses.

The eyewitness reported that for a $50 fee, he obtained the 911 recordings of Raudenbush’s calls made on the evening of December 30, 2010 from a location to which he fled after encountering Millsaps.   He said that Raudenbush’s public defender, Leon Shahan, tried to have the recordings introduced into evidence but that Blackwood refused the request.

When we asked the eyewitness why Blackwood would have denied the jury the opportunity to hear evidence, he responded:

With everything that I’ve seen, I believe that as a result of the civil suit that George has against the county sheriff’s department, they’re not going to let him off on anything.  They’re going to make sure that he pays the price.

I went to a hearing before this judge in McMinn County, and we were trying to get a change of venue.  I told him, “I don’t see any way that George can get a fair trial in Monroe County” and the judge said, “Why is that?”  I said, “Well, I am often up in Monroe County, I go in to restaurants, follow people in and out of the police department, people who work at the courthouse, and everybody has an opinion about George’s case.  Because of that, there’s no way that he can have anybody go in there without any kind of prejudice for or against him because they already know.  There’s no way he can get a fair trial,” and I still believe that.

Blackwood denied Raudenbush’s request for a change of venue earlier this year.

“The way George has described it, it’s a very small community in which everyone knows everyone else.”

Exactly.  For instance, there are people with the name “Bivens” who would testify for George and are distant relatives to former Sheriff Bivens against whom George filed the lawsuit.  It’s tough.  It’s a close community; everybody knows everybody.  I asked one guy who didn’t end up on the jury if he knew certain people, and he said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve worked with them; I know them.” He knew everybody.

“George said that there were seven potential jurors who admitted that they couldn’t be objective.”

Right, but they had to be cornered before they got off.

“What is the status of the lawsuit against Bivens regarding the trailer?”

They still have it.  I gave them an option a long time ago.  I said, “Listen, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you took the trailer.  Please just make sure that all of the contents are there.  We’ll get George; he’ll even tow it; you can put the trailer back on the mission property where you found it, and we can forget it.  Just please do that.”  But they never did it, and they never will.  Bivens is still like that.

“Did they sell everything out of it?”

 No, they didn’t sell everything, but they did sell some; there’s no doubt about that.

“I recall a criminal complaint was filed with the FBI.  What came of that?”

Not much.  The trailer’s still sitting there; nothing’s been returned.  Even in the trials when I went to help George before, the prosecuting attorney printed in the paper that I am not a credible witness and that I am a convicted felon.

“Is that true?”

No; as a matter of fact, I went to the newspaper and handed him my gun permit, which is issued by the federal government, and I said, “Look at this.  Do you know what this is?” “It’s a gun permit.”  “Tell me how I got it.”  And he said, “You have to go through a federal investigation,” and I said, “That’s right.  So if your DA says that I’m a convicted felon, what is he talking about?  Where’s he getting his information?”

“That’s defamation.”

(Laughs) That’s just what I’m saying.  So he was saying that they would use the case to begin to try to pull me down in the eyes of the community so that when the trial comes for the lawsuit, they’ll say, “He’s a convicted felon.”

“If things were normal in that area, you could sue them for defamation unless they made an immediate retraction and correction.”

Here’s the thing:  I’ve come to the conclusion that in Monroe County, if you’re bringing anything against an officer of the court or of the law, the “justice” system is together with him.  It’s like trying to bring a lawsuit against somebody whose hand is to the lawsuit of the one you’re trying to sue.  Where’s that going to go?  That’s what we’ve got. Eventually, you call it a corrupt government.  It’s very corrupt.

“You know what they did to Walter Fitzpatrick?”

Well, now Walter is another case.  When he tried to get the grand jury foreman brought up, there you go again…you’re still going against the very system you’re trying to deal with.  It’s kicked him hard.  In the people’s minds up there, they have lumped George and Fitzpatrick together, even though they are not doing exactly the same thing.  If you changed George’s name to “Millsaps” or “Bivens”…  There’s no “Raudenbush” or “Fitzpatrick” in Monroe County.  When your name’s foreign, you’re a foreigner, and you’re going to be judged from the get-go. That’s just the way it is.

On August 24, 2011, Fitzpatrick had taken a seat in the Monroe County courthouse to observe Raudenbush’s first trial and was ousted by Judge Carroll Lee Ross for having “a recording device” in the form of a fountain pen.

“So if you weren’t born and raised in that community – if you come in from another place to work or help someone else – they look at you as an outsider forever?”

That’s right.  Oh, yeah.

“Even if you mean them no ill will?”

(Laughs) George don’t hurt anybody; I’ve never seen him have an ill thought toward anybody.  Everybody knows you’re an outsider.

The county I’m in is different, but the justice system is still mixed-up as far as the judges; they’ve got to be changed out.  We just did some big changes, but some of the bad ones are not gone yet.

J. Reed Dixon is gone; Amy Reedy is gone; Carroll Ross retired, and you have a new attorney general.”

Yes, Ross is gone along with Bill Bivens.

“What do you think about the final verdict in George’s retrial?”

It came down too quickly and they dismissed too much evidence too quickly.  It was never a real trial; it was just a pretense as far as I’m concerned. The fact that George got a retrial, I think, ticked ’em off.  They didn’t like it, and I just don’t see why it fell back into their hands.  I don’t understand that.  If somebody gets a new trial, why can’t they automatically get a new trial in a different place?

“How do you think the trial jury came to its conclusions as quickly as it did?”

Who picks the jury?  Who picks the pool of the jury?

“We know that Martha Cook was involved in that.  We have documents which she handed to Walt, who was defending himself at the time, and there are circles and ‘X’s’ on some of the names and notes next to others.”

So you already know what I’m talking about.

“In December 2011, Walt observed Amy Reedy pick the names of the new grand jurors from slips of paper on her desk, not from out of a closed box in open court as state law requires.”

So you see what I’m saying…you can’t have an unbiased jury if you’re handpicked. It’s just impossible.

“Is it your best guess that George’s jury was handpicked?”

Too many of them denied that they knew anybody on the police force, but we know that when the trial was over, one of them went right out and said, “Hi, Bud, how’re you doing?”

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