The Kingsport Times-News,
BYLINE: Jeff Bobo
Link to Article

Hawkins County, TN


ROGERSVILLE — Former narcotic detective Brad Depew spent his first night in jail Friday since pleading guilty on July 30 to 75 charges related to the 2011 burglary and theft of drugs from the sheriff’s evidence locker.

Following a sentencing hearing that lasted nearly two hours Friday morning in Hawkins County Criminal Court, Depew, 44, of Church Hill, was taken into custody to begin serving a 10-year sentence. He was also fined $8,650.

As with any first-time offender in his sentencing range, Depew will be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of his sentence. Depew was a 23-year veteran of the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, including more than a decade as a narcotics detective prior to his arrest in April of 2011.

Special appointed Judge Thomas Wright denied motions for judicial diversion and alternative sentencing that had been filed on behalf of Depew by his attorney, Rick Spivey.

Wright said that granting diversion or probation would not promote respect for the law. Wright also denied a request to allow Depew to report to jail on Jan. 2 so he could spend the holidays with his family.

The judge said now that there’s no hope for alternative sentencing, the risk would be greater for Depew to “do something silly” if released. Depew had also tested positive for drugs while on bail after pleading guilty in July.

“My heart and emotion say yes, but logic says no,” Wright said.

Depew was arrested April 21, 2011, after a search of his home and vehicles revealed him to be in possession of a large quantity and variety of pills, cocaine and meth, as well as HCSO evidence envelopes, digital scales and drug paraphernalia. Drugs and paraphernalia were also found in a hidden compartment in Depew’s patrol car.

HCSO surveillance videos showed Depew enter the evidence locker on multiple occasions in March and April of 2011, sort through evidence envelopes, and take evidence envelopes or their contents.

During Friday’s hearing, Spivey offered the explanation for Depew’s conduct as a “perfect storm” — a combination of mental illness, depression brought on by a professional setback, and “possible addiction.”

Spivey said Depew had been under the care of a psychiatrist prior to the thefts. His depression apparently intensified after being demoted from detective to road deputy after Sheriff Ronnie Lawson took office in September 2010.

Depew had assisted with the installation of security cameras in the evidence locker. Spivey said Depew’s subsequent evidence room burglaries were “not the actions of a rational or sane man.”

“He did it with full knowledge that he was going to get caught,” Spivey told the court.

Spivey said Depew’s immaculate record prior to his arrest should count for something, and probation would serve the interests of justice.

Spivey added, “If Mr. Depew is placed on probation you’ll never have to worry about him any more.”

Depew didn’t testify, and Spivey didn’t call any witnesses.

Special prosecutor Gene Perron called three witnesses, including Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brian Pritchard, who was the prosecuting officer.

Pritchard testified that while being questioned shortly after his April 21, 2011, arrest Depew made the statement, “He was tired of being messed with and he decided to mess back.”

It was stipulated by both prosecution and defense that this statement pertained to Depew’s feelings about being demoted by Sheriff Lawson.

Perron asked witnesses about Depew’s suspected drug use. HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen testified that Depew changed after he had back surgery about a year and a half ago. Allen said he offered to help Depew get help, but Depew didn’t accept.

Much of Perron’s questioning focused on criminal cases that were jeopardized by Depew’s theft of evidence.

Narcotics found to be missing after one of Depew’s evidence locker break-ins included 175 oxycodone pills, 79 grams of methadone, and 84.5 methadone pills from one specific criminal case involving defendant David Henegar. Henegar pleaded guilty this past March to reduced charges attributed directly to Depew’s thefts.

Henegar, who was mentioned by name several times during Depew’s hearing Friday, was sentenced to 120 days in jail and five years on house arrest — as opposed to a minimum eight-year sentence typically handed out to defendants in similar cases.

Assistant Attorney General Alex Pearson testified that many prosecutions have been compromised by Depew’s thefts including Henegar’s, which would have gone to federal court if the evidence hadn’t been stolen.

In denying the defense motions for alternative sentencing, Wright said Depew’s immaculate previous record in law enforcement was the best argument for leniency, but also the most damning argument against.

“The higher level of trust given, the more damage is done when you abuse that trust,” Wright said. “... The damage goes far beyond the cases that were compromised. This gives voice to people who want to discredit law enforcement. Justice is not served by diversion.”

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