UPDATE: At Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston's request, the TBI is investigating Pinkston's challenger, Coty Wamp, for the upcoming District Attorney race.
According to the request, Wamp, who is currently the legal counsel for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, is accused of witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
The request says on January 2, 2022, Hugo Garcia Padilla was identified as a suspect in a shooting that occurred in Soddy-Daisy and was taken into custody by the Chattanooga Police Department’s SWAT team.
The request says Wamp notified the Soddy-Daisy Police Department that the wrong suspect was in custody “based on upon her inquiry, talking to witnesses, victims, and Padilla’s employer” who is listed as Jeff Cannon.
The request says after the alleged intervention by Wamp, victims recounted their original stories, denying that Padilla is the suspect and accused Hugo Garcia Robles of being the actual suspect.
"You can't ever ask the witness that you're interviewing to alter or change what they're testimony would be," said Robert Kurtz, an attorney based out of Knoxville who has no affiliation to the investigation.
The request says members of the Soddy-Daisy Police Department stated that the victims began acting strangely following their interaction with Wamp “and/or others on her behalf that are unknown at this time.”
The request says Wamp and Cannon attempted to interfere with the natural progression of a criminal case by asking others to set a special hearing for Padilla within 24 hours with the intention of preventing his deportation by ICE agents.
Channel 3 reached out to Wamp’s campaign for comment and received the following statement:
“As to the facts surrounding this fabricated narrative our DA has created for his own political gain, I want to make one thing very clear— I will always seek justice and pursue truth. If I ever come across information that causes me to believe a potentially innocent person has been wrongly accused or incarcerated, just as I did in this situation, I will do everything in my power to remedy it, because I have both an ethical duty as a lawyer to do so but also a moral obligation as a human being. I am happy to answer any questions about this incident, and I look forward to the facts and truth coming out. I have done absolutely nothing wrong, and I will stand by my actions.
"While violent crime is continuing to wreak havoc in our community, our District Attorney has once again proven unfit for office. Instead of focusing on sending violent criminals and drug dealers to prison, he has used his authority and position as a political weapon. It is an absolute abuse of power, and it is disgraceful. The criminal justice system and the authority of a District Attorney should never be used to gain dishonest political advantages. I cannot say I am surprised my opponent has chosen to stoop to this level, but desperate people do desperate things. This is a prime example of why I’m running for office.
"How convenient our District Attorney has asked TBI to investigate one attorney in Chattanooga, and that attorney just happens to be his only political opponent. Going forward, I will continue to talk about the issues that matter. I will continue to create solutions for our criminal justice system, and I will continue to focus on restoring integrity to an office that so badly needs it.”
Channel 3 reached out to District Attorney Neal Pinkston’s office and was told the request to the TBI for the investigation, which can only be made by a district attorney, was submitted after a discussion with Sheriff Jim Hammond and Chief Deputy Austin Garrett.
"They usually use either a sheriff's office or a local law enforcement agency," said Kurtz.
A spokesperson declined to comment on Wamp's accusation that Pinkston's investigation referral was politically-motivated, but said "typically, when a municipality needs assistance, General Pinkston would ask the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) to investigate — unless it involves a HCSO employee or there's some other conflict with using HCSO."
Wamp currently serves as legal counsel for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
"I think that, under these circumstances, the route would still be appropriate for referral to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation because the sheriff's office just should not be the agency that's investigating this," said Kurtz.
Sheriff Hammond confirmed to Channel 3 the discussion with General Pinkston and says he has no problem with the TBI sorting out the matter.
Sheriff Hammond says he does not plan on questioning Wamp and she will not be placed on leave or be subjected to an internal affairs investigation.
Channel 3 reached out to the TBI for more information about the investigation and received the following statement:
"We have been requested by District Attorney General Neal Pinkston to investigate allegations involving Ms. Wamp. The case remains active and ongoing."
Wamp is running against Neal Pinkston in the race for District Attorney General in the 11th Judicial District.
Stay with the WRCB app for updates to this developing story.