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What Did Sheriff Know About Alleged Torture Incident?

What Did Sheriff Know About Alleged Torture Incident?

By Phil Williams. CREATED Nov 6, 2013

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- What did the sheriff know, and when did he know it?

That's the question some are asking over some bizarre torture allegations coming out of Rutherford County.

Two associates of Sheriff Robert Arnold now face a criminal investigation by Murfreesboro police over an incident 16 months ago that ended with them calling the sheriff himself. They even took their alleged victim into the Sheriff's Office for questioning.

Among the questions: if they really did torture a man over a business deal gone bad, why would one of them -- a county commissioner -- then pick up the phone and call the sheriff?

"I don't know why he called me - other than he just thought it was something we should look into," Arnold told NewsChannel 5 Investigates in an exclusive interview.

Arnold said that the call came from county commissioner Matthew Young. Young was upset that Kenneth Cooper had sold him and Murfreesboro businessman Bubba Hutson some counterfeit Justin Beiber tickets.

Young sits on the public safety committee that oversees the sheriff's budget. 

Hutson is a Republican Party activist who sports "Robert Arnold" bumper stickers on his truck.

"So do you think that's why they called you?" we asked the sheriff.

"No," Arnold answered. "I don't know why they called specifically me -- other than they know me and they know I'm the sheriff."

Cooper told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that the men were "trying to use their influence or something like that to try to scare me."

In fact, Cooper claimed that Hutson boasted that he would show him who really had the connections in Rutherford County. That came, Cooper said, after Hutson, Young and a Mississippi man had tortured him over the counterfeit tickets.

We asked Arnold, "When Matt Young called you, he never said, 'Hey, we forced a confession out of this guy'?"

"No," the sheriff said. "The only thing what I recall is Matt Young calling me and talking about a counterfeit process, about counterfeiting tickets. And, at that time, ok, counterfeiting, you want to come in and talk to the detectives, come on down."

Sheriff's department video -- which could be a critical piece of evidence in the torture investigation -- shows where the men also brought Cooper with them.

The Rutherford County detective appeared to immediately be suspicious.

"I just want to make sure that you understand that you are free to leave here, he told Cooper. "Bubba can't make you stay. Matthew can't make you stay."

Cooper told us that "it kind of surprised me that they took me to the sheriff's department because I still had blood on me."

On the video, Cooper pointed out his apparent injuries to the detective.

Cooper: "You see my face, don't you. You see my neck, don't you?"
Detective: "I was fixing to ask you about that."
Cooper: "You see the burned cigarette on my hand, don't you."
Detective: "Uh-huh."
Cooper: "So you can imagine the torture that was put to me over at that damn house."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the sheriff, "Did the detective follow up with you and say, 'Sheriff, there's something strange going on?'"

"I never once talked to the detective any more after this whole interview," Arnold insisted, saying that he left the matter in the hands of his staff.

And the sheriff noted that the detective did try to help Cooper.

"We tried to offer him safe haven, a way to leave, if he wanted a taxi, if he wanted to leave on his accord, walk out the back door and all that, he refused," Arnold said. "So there's nothing more that the detective could really do."

And even though the detective was suspicious and felt the need to offer Cooper a safe way out, the Sheriff's Office said that he never asked Young or Hutson about Cooper's claims that they had tortured him.

The sheriff said that's because Cooper indicated that he did not want to pursue the matter.

As for what the sheriff's office could have done, some have suggested that it could have been treated as a domestic assault -- because Cooper lived with at least one of these men -- and, under state law, they could have investigated anyway.

But the sheriff insisted that his office did not know that Cooper lived with any of these men.

Still, the three alleged perpetrators all say that Cooper's story is a fabrication.

There's no word on when the Murfreesboro police investigation will be wrapped up.

Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.