Indicted former Knox County Sheriff’s chief no longer mentally competent for trial, lawyer says

By: - October 31, 2022 6:00 am
Photo from Knox County Sheriff's Office

Photo from Knox County Sheriff’s Office

A former chief of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office accused of using the agency’s drug fund and a county credit card as a piggy bank and on-duty subordinates as a private construction crew is no longer mentally competent enough to stand trial, his attorney says.

Attorney Robert Kurtz says in a recent motion that David Henderson, the ex-chief of KCSO’s narcotics unit, is showing signs of dementia and cannot meaningfully assist in the defense of federal charges filed against him earlier this year.

“Mr. Henderson was evaluated by an expert neuropsychologist on Jan. 18, 2022,” Kurtz wrote. “Mr. Henderson was evaluated again by the expert neuropsychologist on Sept. 27, 2022. Based on these evaluations as well as other information, the expert has opined … that Mr. Henderson is not competent to stand trial.

“Mr. Henderson lacks the capacity to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel and to assist in preparing his defense,” Kurtz continued.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jill McCook has put Henderson’s trial, which had been set to begin Nov. 8, on hold pending further evaluation of the former narcotics unit chief.

“The court, therefore, grants (Henderson’s) motion for a competency hearing,” McCook wrote. “The court will conduct a hearing to determine (his) competency to stand trial, and a date for that hearing will be set at a later time.”

Henderson was indicted in U.S. District Court in Knoxville in February on a charge of conspiring to commit federal program fraud.

The indictment accuses Henderson of repeatedly dipping into drug seizure money to buy things for himself, his family and friends, colleagues and their relatives and former Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones for at least seven years.

It also alleges he directed subordinates to use a county credit card to buy pricey electronics, outfit a boat and duck blind for Jones, set up a garage on county property to restore antique cars, including his own, and a rifle scope for Jones.

Henderson is also accused in the indictment of using on-duty subordinates as free labor on construction projects that benefitted himself, his family and friends and the ex-sheriff.

henderson indictment

Feds haven’t indicted co-conspirators

So far, the U.S. Attorney’s office has not moved to indict anyone else in the conspiracy, including Jones, and is resisting an effort by Kurtz to seek the identities of other unindicted co-conspirators. Jones has denied any wrongdoing. His term as sheriff ended in 2018. He ran again in 2022 but lost.

Federal prosecutors William Roach, Jr., and Frank Dale argued in a recent response to Kurtz’s motion that Henderson already knows with whom he conspired.

“The allegations disclose specific purchases and dates made by co-conspirators at (Henderson’s) direction; specific construction and renovation projects and dates performed by co-conspirators at (Henderson’s) direction; and specific antique vehicles that (Henderson) and others restored,” the pair’s response stated. “Thus, the specificity of the allegations indicates that (he) is already aware of the identity of co-conspirators and witnesses with knowledge of (his) alleged conduct.”

The 21-page indictment details more than 50 “overt acts” and makes specific reference to Jones as a benefactor of the alleged plot. But it does not provide identifying information on the KCSO personnel who also benefited from Henderson’s alleged misdeeds.

“Between in or around 2011 and continuing uninterrupted to in and around September 2018, David Henderson and his co-conspirators used money from the narcotics cash fund and the narcotics unit credit card for their own personal use and benefit and for the personal use and benefit of their family members, associates and friends,” the indictment alleges.

“It was further part of the conspiracy that Henderson controlled the work schedules of all the narcotics unit officers under his command,” the indictment reads. “Henderson exercised his authority over the narcotics unit officers by instructing them to perform renovation, remodeling, construction and other manual-labor type projects during the workday at his personal residence, the residence of former Knox County Sheriff (Jones) and the personal residences of chosen subordinate narcotics unit officers.”

Duck boat, duck blind, privacy fence for ex-sheriff

To cover his own tracks, prosecutors Roach and Dale allege, Henderson directed subordinates to use the drug fund and county credit card to make purchases and submitted false receipts to the Knox County Finance Office to justify the expenditures.

Henderson was generous with the purloined cash, doling out new Apple products to “narcotics unit officers of Henderson’s choosing,” the indictment states.

“Other units in the KCSO did not use Apple products for their day-to-day job responsibilities, but Henderson made sure that certain officers in the narcotics unit had access to the newest Apple products, especially those subordinate officers who followed Henderson’s directions and assisted with various construction, remodeling and renovation projects at Henderson’s direction,” the document continues.

Henderson, the indictment alleges, directed subordinates to buy a total of $138,000 worth of Apple products during the seven-year conspiracy.

Henderson showered his family and friends with gifts, too, including security cameras, security systems, a $3,000 thermal imager, while treating himself to Yeti coolers, pricey tools, ammunition, a rifle case, ammunition loaders, leather executive chairs and other goods, court records state.

He used subordinates to build a duck blind for Jones and used the drug fund and credit card to pay for materials to “finish, outfit and accessorize it,” the prosecutors wrote in the indictment. He also used drug fund cash “to outfit the former Knox County Sheriff (Jones’) personal duck hunting boat” and ordered subordinates to build a privacy fence around Jones’ home,” the prosecutors allege.

“Beginning in and around August 2015 and continuing to in or around September 2018, Henderson and his subordinate officers used the blue building (at the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility in East Knox County) to restore several classic cars that they owned,” the indictment states.

“Henderson and several of his subordinates, often at Henderson’s request, worked on Henderson’s cars during the workday and late into the evenings,” the document continues. “On at least one occasion during the conspiracy, Henderson directed two of his subordinate officers to pick up a frame for his Chevelle in Nashville. A KCSO trailer was used to haul the frame to Knoxville from Nashville. The KCSO gas card was used for fuel during the trip.”

When Henderson ordered subordinates to install a metal roof on the home of an unidentified coworker, one underling chose instead to do his law enforcement job.

“Last time (I) checked my badge didn’t say construction worker on it,” the subordinate stated in a text included in the indictment. “I’ll be here doing police stuff and u (sic) guys can do that.”

His captain responded, “We do what we have to do … You learn three things in this unit: 1) how to keep your mouth shut when needed; 2) when the chief (Henderson) needs something done, we do it; 3) take care of (the narcotics unit) before anyone else. You want to piss me off? Tell me you got paperwork to do and teaching a class again next time your partners are having to put on a (expletive) roof. Let this be a lesson learned.”

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Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.