TBI, Comptroller Investigating 8th Judicial District Drug Task Force Evidence Procedures

A law enforcement agency that prosecutes drug crimes in a five-county swath of East Tennessee is the subject of a state probe into its handling of seized money and contraband.

Jared Effler, the district attorney general for Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties, issued a press release last Friday, indicating he had requested the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the comptroller’s office to “conduct a complete investigation into the procedures and protocols of the 8th Judicial District Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force as they pertain to the storage and disposition of evidence and currency.”

The release also indicated that Melvin Bayless, the drug task force director, has been placed on administrative leave with pay during the course of the investigation.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed that on March 4, Effler requested the agency investigate the task force in conjunction with the Comptroller.

However, “since this is an ongoing investigation and is in the very preliminary stages, we can’t provide any other specifics at this stage,” said Susan Niland, one of the TBI’s public information officers, via email.

A spokesman for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury acknowledged the office was a part of the investigation, but would not comment further.

The Eighth Judicial District includes Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties.

Effler was elected to his position last August after he handily beat the incumbent, Lori Phillips-Jones, who had previously been appointed to fill position of a longtime DA who was retiring. Effler, a 14-year prosecutor, was terminated last March by Phillips-Jones after he announced he was running for the position.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who represents Claiborne and Union counties, told TNReport Tuesday he wouldn’t comment until more information was available.