Bilbrey fired Ringgold police Sgt. Tom Evans on Feb. 15 after he learned Evans had driven FBI special agent Ken Hillman and two women to Chattanooga, Tenn., in his patrol car after the three were found intoxicated.
“We went through the proper channels that exist when attempting to interview an FBI agent in an investigation like this,” Bilbrey said. “We put in the request to the FBI to interview Ken, and then we waited to hear back from the powers that be regarding permission to do so.”
On the night of Oct. 24, Evans responded to a 911 call about a possible drunk driver leaving the Acoustic Café restaurant at 61 RBC Drive in Ringgold. Upon arrival, Evans encountered Hillman, who was with Angela Russell, estranged wife of businessman Emerson Russell of Catoosa County, and her daughter, 25-year-old Katherine Russell. Evans questioned the trio in the parking lot of the establishment as they were preparing to leave the location.
All three appeared to be intoxicated, and at least one of them had been refused service by a café employee who had placed the 911 call, reports show.
Instead of arresting them for DUI, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, or any other charge related to such a call, Evans called in a “10-24” code (done with assignment) to Catoosa County dispatch, and then drove them out of the city to Katherine Russell’s condominium in Chattanooga. He then drove Katherine back to her car in Ringgold.
Bilbrey said he learned what happened that night in a meeting more than three months later in early February with three people: Ringgold attorney McCracken Poston, Emerson Russell and Katherine Russell.
Poston said he told Bilbrey that Hillman was being investigated by the FBI.
Poston works in the same building as attorney Kevin Silvey, who is representing Emerson Russell in a divorce from Angela Russell.
“I was made aware of a complaint against Tom regarding that incident, and we began doing our due diligence (conducting an investigation) in the matter,” Bilbrey said.
“We didn’t let grass grow under our feet,” Bilbrey added. “We moved immediately regarding the matter. Tom was pulled from his post and placed on administrative leave while we conducted our investigation.”
Bilbrey also said that not getting the opportunity to interview agent Hillman did not change the outcome of the investigation.
“It really wouldn’t have mattered … It just would have been a waste of taxpayer’s money, Bilbrey said. “Our grounds for firing Tom didn’t have as much to do with Hillman as it did with Tom’s inability to follow protocol, him ignoring directives, and leaving his post to travel outside the city and state while on duty. We had enough cause to fire Tom, even without interviewing Ken Hillman.”
The investigation included statements from employees of Acoustic Café and patrons who were in the building at the time of the incident.
“We told Tom he was on administrative leave, pending the outcome (of the investigation),” Bilbrey said. “The investigation lasted two weeks, and we called Tom in for a second interview on Friday, Feb. 15. After that interview he was sent home, and then we had him come in one last time that afternoon to inform him that he was terminated.
Hillman has been head of the Northwest Georgia Crimes Against Children Task Force for the past few years.
It is uncertain whether Hillman has been suspended from his post or if the task force is still operating. Calls to the FBI field office in Atlanta have gone unreturned.
The task force engages in on-line chats throughout the region, attempting to catch people seeking sexual contact with children.
Evans, who had been with Ringgold Police Department since 2009, began working part-time under Hillman with the child task force around the time of the October incident, but it is unclear whether he was awarded that position before or after the incident occurred.
Although Evans has not returned calls seeking comment, he did tell Bilbrey and Ringgold assistant police chief Greg Wingo during the investigation that he was doing Hillman a favor by driving the trio to Chattanooga after leaving Acoustic Café, Bilbrey said.
Evans’ said he likely would have arrested both Russell women had Hillman not been with them, and that he didn’t file a report on the incident at Hillman’s request.
During the investigation, the mother and daughter gave investigators conflicting stories of what took place that night.
Katherine Russell claimed Evans acted inappropriately and continually made advances at her that night after leaving Acoustic Café, reports show.
She also claims Evans said he’d take her back to Ringgold if she’d flash her breasts at him, and that he repeatedly hit on her during the ride to Chattanooga.
She told Wingo, who investigated the case, that Evans said he would “be all over her if he were younger and unmarried,” reports show.
Angela Russell refuted her daughter’s account. “My daughter is a liar,” she stated during questioning. “I don’t believe it happened.”
Evans also denied Katherine Russell’s claim, which went unproven during the department’s investigation, Bilbrey said.
Evans is married to Beth Evans, an assistant district attorney in Walker County with the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit.