2 TBI agents indicted after Ridgely resident alleges illegal search

Sunday, March 18, 2018

RACHEL TOWNSEND

rtownsend@stategazette.com

In the summer of 2015, Ridgely residents Fred Austin Wortman Jr. and his wife, Marilyn, claim their home was subject to an illegal search by two agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Mark Reynolds and Jeff Jackson.

Now, nearly three years later, the couple continues to seek justice, as Wortman has entered into both civil and criminal lawsuits over the incident, appearing Monday, March 12, 2017, in front of the Lake County Grand Jury where he requested the issue of arrest warrants for the two agents.

On Thursday, March 15, Lake County Grand Jury released indictments on Reynolds and Jackson on 3 charges including: 2 counts of aggravated assault, 2 counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary.

According to Wortman, the incident occurred on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Wortman says he and his wife, Marilyn, were home going about their regular day when Wortman observed two agents pass in front of a living room window. Moments later, Wortman says the two agents knocked on the door and identified themselves as TBI agents, Jeff Jackson and Mark Reynolds.

“They asked me if I would answer some questions and I told them I would not answer questions without an attorney,” explained Wortman. “They proceeded to ask me questions anyways - after I already said no.”

Wortman says the two agents then asked to search his home. However, when asked to furnish a search warrant, Wortman says the agents admitted they did not have one.

“They said they had come to my home as ‘honorable gentlemen’,” said Wortman. “They said they were hoping I would be an honorable gentleman as well. I told them I was as honorable a gentleman as I could be, but they were still going to need a search warrant to enter my house. I told them if they didn’t have a search warrant, I wanted them off of my property. I asked them to leave three times … they never even told me what they were looking for.

“I turned around, reached out and opened the door and walked through the opening and was in the process of shutting the door when the door was violently pushed into me from the outside. … I was trying to keep the door from opening and yelled at my wife to call 911,” said Wortman.

At that time, Wortman says the two agents made entry to his home, knocking him backward into a table placed near the entranceway.

“Jackson told me he could shoot me because he thought I was going for a gun,” recalled Wortman shaking his head. “Reynolds told me he could have killed me because he was in fear of his life. … He [Jackson] should have realized I could not have been going for a gun because I had been holding the door and never moved from the door until they had broken inside of my house.”

Wortman says he immediately called Lake County Sheriff, Bryan Avery, who responded to the Wortmans’ residence around 4 p.m. that evening with numerous Lake County deputies.

“Sheriff Bryan Avery and most of the deputies commandeered our home until 11:30 p.m. while the intruders went to get a search warrant and returned to search our home and our daughter’s home next door,” said Wortman. “After searching our home, they proceeded to search the home of our daughter and son-in-law. While there, Jackson thought it would be funny to tell my daughter and son-in-law he had to ‘draw down’ on me as I walked away from him outside the house earlier that day. After the second search, they [Jackson and Reynolds] even apologized for the incident earlier that day.”

The following day, Wortman says he began taking measures to press charges on the two agents who allegedly ‘invaded’ his home.

After placing a call to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Wortman says a chief deputy informed him the department would be unable to take action against TBI. In the months following the incident, Wortman began seeking out legal representation on the matter, and later reached back out to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office with a request to receive the office’s report of the incident.

“Lawyers interested in taking on the case wanted to see the report from the Sheriff’s Department [Lake County],” said Wortman. “I didn’t think there was a report because no one had ever asked me for a statement, but the attorneys I spoke with assured me and my wife there must be a statement. I called the Sheriff’s Department and requested a copy of the report, and, just like I thought, no report had been prepared or filed anywhere. This was nearly 5 or 6 months after the incident occurred. … After finding out no police report had been prepared, I asked Sheriff Avery’s secretary to ask him to prepare a report I could give to my lawyer. I told her I would like to provide a statement about what really happened at my house. Several days later, the secretary called and said the report was ready - I was never even asked to provide a statement!”

State Gazette obtained the police report filed by Avery roughly 5 months after the incident occurred; no mention of the Wortmans’ personal account was made.

In the report Avery says Reynolds and Jackson made contact with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office at approximately 4 p.m. on July 29, 2015 and arrived at the Wortmans’ home 15-minutes later accompanied by 6 deputies. At that time, Avery says he, Reynolds and Jackson entered the Wortmans’ home and requested permission to search, which they were denied without a valid search warrant. Members of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office remained on scene at the Wortmans’ residence until Reynolds and Jackson returned with a warrant.

Wortman says he has invested a large amount of time and resources since 2015, while attempting to learn more about the legal system. Attorney Charles Agee Jr. now represents Wortman in a civil suit against the agents, with Wortman representing himself independently in a criminal suit.

In 2017, Wortman went before former Lake County Judge Danny Goodman (presently the District Attorney General of the 29th Judicial District) to provide a statement under oath detailing his account of the incident. At that time, Wortman requested Goodman to issue arrest warrants on the agents under Tennessee Rule 4 of Criminal Procedure, which reads: “If the affidavit of complaint and any supporting affidavits filed with it establish that there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant has committed it, the magistrate or clerk shall issue an arrest warrant to an officer authorized by law to execute it or shall issue a criminal summons for the appearance of the defendant. More than one warrant or criminal summons may issue on the same complaint.”

Goodman isn’t permitted to comment because of the pending Petition for Writ of Mandamus set to be heard on Monday, March. 19. Wortman and Goodman will appear in Lake County Chancery Court at noon in regard to a Writ of Mandamus filed by Wortman prior to the indictment of Jackson and Reynolds.

In 2017 interrogatories held between Assistant Attorney General Amanda Jordan and Agee, Reynolds and Jackson claim they did in fact reveal the items sought after in the search to the Wortmans’ prior to obtaining a search warrant, and entered Wortman’s home without a search warrant believing Wortman would destroy the evidence.

The agents stated they were sent to the Wortmans’ residence by Assistant District Attorney Mark Davidson of the 25th Judicial District to obtain the items outlined in the search warrant, which were mentioned by the Wortmans’ son, Fred Auston Wortman III, who is currently serving out a 30-year sentence on a first-degree attempted murder plea.

Jordan stated the agents claim to have informed Wortman of the items they were looking for prior to the first search and were told by Wortman they would ‘never get what they were looking for from his house.’

When asked by Agee, if the Wortmans were provided beforehand knowledge of the agents’ arrival at their home to initiate a search, their response was simply, ‘no’.

Additionally, the agents allege Wortman was asked if he wanted to contact an attorney to which he declined.

In response to Wortman’s allegations of the agents forcefully entering his home and causing bodily injury, the agents stated, ‘Jackson stopped him [Wortman] from slamming the door shut; however, at no time was Mr. Wortman knocked onto a table.’

Both agents deny telling Wortman they could have killed or shot him.

Wortman says he cannot understand why the two agents would not have obtained a warrant prior to arriving at his home, as outlined in TBI’s written policy manual, and wishes to take necessary measures to prevent situations like his from happening to anyone else.

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