We had been trying to get some questions answered about the situation surrounding Justin Jones, a civil rights activist who nearly had his bond revoked for sending an email to Speaker Casada’s office after a no-contact order, which we now know he did not do, and it seems the date on the email in question may have been altered.
The case has been passed off to a special prosecutor because District Attorney Glenn Funk’s office has determined it has a conflict of interest. After a number of unanswered emails we found our way to Steve Hayslip, who handles communications for Funk’s office. He spoke with us today. Below is that conversation in full.
HOLLER: With the Justin Jones investigation, one of the questions that seems to be outstanding is the scope of the Special Prosecutor’s investigation… are they looking into Justin? Or are they looking into the email discrepancy?
HAYSLIP: That would be completely up to the Coffee County D.A. Once the District Attorneys General Conference selected them – and however that process was done I’m not sure, but it’s basically an umbrella group that oversees all the judicial districts in the state of Tennessee… when we have a conflict of interest, or when any of the 31 districts have a conflict of interest, they would appeal to the conference, the overall umbrella organization, and say “Hey look we can’t handle this case, we have some sort of reason why we can’t move forward with our prosecution, we request that you select another jurisdiction to take that over.” We basically asked for them to select another jurisdiction. They selected Coffee County. So Coffee County will now handle the entire scope of the Jones investigation. It’ll be up to them to decide how far they want to go in looking at the emails, if that’s part of their choosing, and even the charges defendant Jones is facing right now. I hate to pass the buck, but it’s completely up to them.
HOLLER: Can I ask why it was decided there was a conflict of interest?
HAYSLIP: Given the fact that we had received the email that became controversial, and we could not verify its authenticity – given the fact that we received it, and we were going to be acting upon it, and luckily we didn’t because we couldn’t verify the authenticity of it… so when we couldn’t verify the authenticity, that’s when we pulled that motion to revoke his bond. We’re not going to say someone violated their bond when we have a shred of uncertainty about the validity of that email. And that’s exactly how we felt. When our Assistant District Attorney saw those two differing dates he said “Wait a minute, hold on. We Gotta pull the car over to the side of the road.” We’re not gonna move forward. We’re certainly not going to deny someone their liberty based on information we cannot prove to be true. And if there’s any uncertainty we’re not going to move forward. So that’s why we struck the motion to revoke the bond… at that point we’re just waiting on I.T. to give us the reasoning why there were differing dates. As time kept going, it was the end of the legislative session, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt to let us know, ok we’re waiting to find out why there are 2 different dates on this email. As time drew closer and the legislative session was coming to an end, District Attorney Funk realized we can’t prosecute this case because we were the recipient of this email that’s in question. These dates that were in question. We can’t be both a potential witness to something that may have happened – if that date was not authentic, we’ve become a witness to that, and at the same time we’re turning around and trying to prosecute based on that information? That’s why we realized we needed to pass this on to the District Attorneys General Conference, have them choose another jurisdiction to take this over.
HOLLER: When you passed it on, was there any recommendation made as to anything concerning the case?
HAYSLIP: Absolutely not. Nope, absolutely not. Other than the fact that we’ve received an email that we cannot verify the authenticity.
HOLLER: So you did say that? You made them aware of what was happening?
HOLLER: Is there any other investigation happening through your office surrounding anything involving Glen Casada?
HAYSLIP: Not to my knowledge. At this point I don’t think there is right now. And I don’t know if there will be in the future. I don’t think anyone has requested it. As far as I know everything is all tied to the email, and that’s in the hands of Coffee County. How far they want to dive into that is completely up to them.
HOLLER: One of the reports in the last few days was about Speaker Casada paying a staffer to handle political duties – something like a $50,000 staffer that doesn’t have to show up to work that was drafting attacks on Rep. Byrd’s accusers. Is that the D.A. office’s purview? Megan Barry got in trouble for even less than that financially dollar-wise. Is that something the District Attorney’s office would look into?
HAYSLIP: I think if it was brought to our attention we’d have to review it and find out whether or not that falls within our scope. We’d look at it and if it’s not in our scope we’d send it to the proper authority.