Witnesses to a public confrontation between East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble and Court Clerk Joanne Thomas said he was upset over the handling of an armed robbery case in which his daughter was the victim.
One person who was present in the clerk's office Tuesday night said, "Tim was irate. He was over the top. The veins were bulging out in his neck. He leaned in, pointed his finger in Joanne's face and said, 'This case is not going to be dismissed.'" The witness said, "This is something that should have been handled in a closed-door meeting with Joanne - not out in front of everybody."
Mr. Gobble, who suspended Ms. Thomas for five days without pay, said it was "about that case and other cases. Witnesses in this case were not properly notified, and it happens all the time. The district attorney's office has complained of problems in the clerk's office, including missing files and other errors and omissions."
He said, "It is well established that the city manager is over the court clerk's office and not the judge. I'm going to get a handle on this. I'm going to get it fixed."
Mr. Gobble said the previous city manager "also dealt with problems in the clerk's office."
In the robbery case, Mr. Gobble's daughter and a male friend were walking to their vehicles in the Church of Christ parking lot at 951 McBrien Road at about 11:15 p.m. on Sunday. They said a gold Jeep Cherokee pulled onto the lot from McBrien Road and a black male exited the Cherokee, brandished a handgun, and robbed them of their credit cards, cell phones, and cash.
Ms. Gobble and her friend provided a description of a white female in the Cherokee as well as a possible license tag number.
East Ridge Police later located the gold Cherokee with a license plate that matched the description given by the victims. The vehicle was occupied by two black males, one of whom fit the suspect description, and a white female who also fit the suspect description. Recovered from the vehicle were the victims’ stolen belongings and a plastic Airsoft pistol.
Arrested were Allen Horton, 30, of 2015 Ocoee St., Chattanooga, and Brandi King, 28, of 120 Passons Road, East Ridge.
Police initially said in a press release that both were scheduled to appear in East Ridge City Court on Nov. 20 on charges of felony theft and aggravated robbery. However, the case was on the docket Tuesday night. But the two victims were not in court. Mr. Gobble said the two officers involved in the arrest were also not there because he said they had not been properly notified.
In the clash between Mr. Gobble and Ms. Thomas, she told him she had left a message on his daughter's answering machine. He responded, "That's not good enough." Mr. Gobble said the message was actually left a few hours before court on his wife's answering machine at Cleveland. He said his daughter is in school in Athens, Tn., and she gave officers her cell phone number that was not called.
Witnesses said the incident was apparently prompted a short time earlier when Ms. Thomas made a comment that was overheard by officers about certain cases should be dismissed when officers do not show up in court. One witness to that conversation said, "She was not saying the armed robbery case was going to be dismissed. She doesn't have the authority to dismiss cases. That is up to the judge. She was repeating something that (Judge) Arvin (Reingold) has said many times about officers and witnesses not coming to court."
Mr. Gobble said he was in a special called City Council meeting "when two officers pulled me out of the meeting and asked me to come to the door. They said there was a serious problem with the administration of the court clerk's office. They said there was discussion about dismissing this case and other cases."
He said he then headed directly for the clerk's office to deal with the matter.
Mr. Gobble said, "This guy is a convicted armed robber and was convicted of statutory rape. He stuck a gun in my daughter's face and her boyfriend's face. Any discussion about dismissing the case is improper and obstruction of justice."
He said, "The witness who was quoted was not authorized to be in a sensitive area of the clerk's office. That is another problem over there - incompetent people letting people who are not supposed to be back where court records and money are kept."
The robbery case has been reset for next Tuesday night.
One issue is whether Judge Reingold should recuse himself because of the involvement of the city manager's daughter in the case.