Terry Ashe, the former 30-year-long Wilson County sheriff, reportedly has accepted a job with Gov. Bill Lee’s office.
Ashe took a job as deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security in mid-January, according to a story by The Lebanon Democrat. Ashe also works as a Wilson County commissioner, and he told The Democrat he does not believe that is a conflict of interest. He was sheriff from 1982-2012.
Gov. Bill Lee’s office has not issued any announcements about the appointment, and Ashe is not listed on the department’s website.
Ashe most recently served as executive director of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association. His biography at the group’s website says he served there since fall 2012 after retiring as sheriff of Wilson County. He was the second-longest serving sheriff in state history and the longest-serving sheriff in Wilson County history.
The sheriff’s association said in a Jan. 19 Facebook post, “Our Executive Director and friend, Sheriff Terry Ashe, Ret., has been appointed as the new Deputy Commissioner of the TN Department of Safety & Homeland Security. He has been a great leader and advocate for our Association and our TSA Family across the State. We will all miss him and wish him the very best in his new role. Congratulations Terry and thank you for your many years of service and dedication to TSA!”
A little deeper looking into Ashe’s background shows more than what the congratulatory posts say.
Steve Gill, Political Editor of The Tennessee Star, said Ashe’s appointment is the latest in a string of disappointing appointments of senior leaders by Lee.
“Governor Lee’s Cabinet picks, marked by an almost complete absence of dependable conservative Republicans that might reflect the values and issues of the activists and voters who supported him, were a big disappointment,” Gill said. “Now, as he fills the next tier of senior positions in departments and agencies his personnel choices don’t appear to be improving.”
“The selection of Terry Ashe, former longtime Democrat Sheriff of Wilson County whose tenure was marked by investigations and serious problems with the treatment of prisoners under his care, as a top official at the Department of Safety and Homeland Security is sure to raise more questions about the Governor’s judgment and whether a legitimate background check was completed in connection with this selection,” Gill said.
Gill referred to reports that include a July 24, 2008 Nashville Scene story saying that then-Wilson Sheriff Ashe settled with federal officials who had investigated the jail and found problems there. The jail was required to designate a “health authority” to oversee medical procedures and hire a licensed mental health provider.
That story references a report The Scene ran on March 13, 2008 that said of Ashe:
His magnificent ability to pass the buck with a straight face also is evident. To hear Ashe tell it, his guards savagely beat inmates because of a county commission that under-funded his department. He didn’t learn of these beatings, he says, because those same guards falsified reports. Never mind that the whole thing went down a few hundred yards from his office.
Of course, false reports work both ways in Ashe’s world. Told of a young woman who accused jail officers of beating and macing her repeatedly, Ashe responds with disbelief, saying essentially that anyone can file a report for anything; it doesn’t mean it’s true. When an inmate died of a drug overdose while in the jail’s custody and in the presence of its nurse, Ashe chalked it up to the fact that no competent medical professional will work in a jail when they could get paid more to work in a hospital. And a mentally ill inmate who attempted to hang herself with her own underwear? That’s the fault of a society that expects jails to deal with its homeless problem.
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