Jackson reinstated as EMS Director

By Lesley Hughes


star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  The suspended director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency will return to his position on Thursday morning almost a month and a half after being suspended for directing a hostage drill during the Aug. 2 called meeting of the Carter County Commission.
  The botched drill was the plan of Ernest Jackson, who enlisted the help of several armed actors to hold the commission hostage and issue mock demands.
  County Mayor Dale Fair and Sheriff John Henson asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate the incident while Jackson was suspended with pay. On Wednesday, Fair announced the decision for Jackson's return "subject to any findings by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and/or the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) indicating possible violations of law or civil rights and under new restrictions concerning future activities of his agency."
  "As our county remembers the terrible act perpetuated on September 11, 2001, each community must continue to evaluate and plan to protect its citizens from any future vulnerability. With any other hurricane approaching with possible flooding and Homeland Security grants in progress it is imperative the Carter County EMA function with a full staff," Fair's press release states.
  Results from the TBI investigation have not been released to Fair, but he said, "In light of the remnants of Hurricane Ivan approaching our area, with possible flooding, we need to move on."
  During the Aug. 2 drill, several unmasked, but armed men and a woman surprised commissioners and a few audience members by demanding there be no increase in property taxes, the reason for the called meeting. A makeshift bomb was placed under the desk where Finance Director Jason Cody, Administrative Assistant to the County Mayor, Joanie Smith, and County Attorney George Dugger were sitting.
  A man and a woman held guns to the backs of deputies stationed at the rear and side entrances of the courtroom. Another gunman waived a pistol while preventing people from exiting the back door. Fearful commissioners watched in disbelief while waiting for an official to take control of the situation.
  The commission and audience members braced for the worst possible scenario while the gunmen screamed about not raising property taxes, chanting, "No wheel tax! No wheel tax!"
  Commissioner Robert Davis challenged the man, saying this was an "authorized governmental meeting" and "Where is the sheriff?" Davis stormed past one of the gunmen saying, "Don't touch me. Do not touch me."
  A shot fired from the gunman at the rear door warned people to sit still and stop moving as commissioners scurried into locked jury rooms only accessible to the people sitting inside the wooden gate.
  Jackson and other EMA officials attempted to tell every audience member while they entered and were swiped with metal detector wands that a drill would be conducted. Other law enforcement in uniform and in street clothes were also notified not to pull their weapons.
  Fair's press release also said, "The drill on August 2, 2004 was hastily planned, improperly communicated and poorly executed; yet, in my opinion, the reasoning and motives were pure. I thank God that no one was injured during the drill and thank all concerned for their understanding. We will learn from our mistake and move on." Fair added later that he never questioned Jackson's integrity, motives, or reasoning concerning the drill.
  Jackson's suspension began Aug. 3 and ends today when he returns to work at 8 a.m. just in time as Hurricane Ivan heads toward the Northeast Tennessee region.
  A press conference will be held today at 10 a.m. to discuss his return and "plans for Hurricane Ivan as they relate to Carter County," according to Jackson, who also wrote, "I am back."