NASHVILLE (Reuters) – Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett was driving a state vehicle when he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence last weekend in Tullahoma, his office said on Tuesday.
“As Secretary of State for Tennessee, Secretary Hargett is assigned a state vehicle for which personal use is permitted. Secretary Hargett pays taxes on the use of this vehicle,” the gate said. – Hargett’s spokesperson, Julia Bruck, in a statement. “Based on the outcome of the legal proceedings, the department will take appropriate action to comply with state policy.”
His comments came as new details emerged of the early Saturday morning arrest after Hargett had previously attended the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
Citing Coffee County court records, Nashville TV station WKRN reported on Tuesday that the arrest took place after an officer saw Hargett leaving Bar 315 in Tullahoma with the vehicle traveling on multiple lane markings while that he was walking three streets.
The police affidavit says the officer stopped the vehicle, detected an odor of intoxicant coming from Hargett and noticed his eyes were glowing. It says Hargett kept repeating “yes, sir” at inappropriate times when no questions were asked, WKRN reported.
Hargett, 53, reportedly performed poorly on several field sobriety tests, and a passenger inside the vehicle told the officer that he and Hargett had been drinking four hours earlier, before the arrest , reported WKRN. Hargett consented to a blood sample. Results are pending.
A former House member, Hargett was first elected by his fellow lawmakers as secretary of state in 2009.
Tullahoma police officials have refused to release Hargett’s complaint affidavit or arrest report – public documents – referring to a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter who on Saturday requested the documents from the prosecutor on Tuesday of the Coffee County District, Craig Northcott.
Northcott’s office has yet to respond to a request Monday for the documents. A staff member at Northcott’s office said Tuesday that officials had received the request but did not elaborate on its status.
“I don’t know the specifics,” Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, told reporters Tuesday morning when asked about the arrest. “He said he had regrets and remorse. And that’s unfortunate.”
Lt. Governor Randy McNally, the Republican Senate Speaker, released a statement on Tuesday.
“Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense and one that requires punishment,” the statement read. “I understand this happened during his off hours. Knowing Tre, I believe he will learn from this mistake and accept the punishment that will be meted out to him. I do not encourage him to resign at this time.”
House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, also released a statement Tuesday.
“Obviously I urge everyone to drink responsibly and please don’t drink or get behind the wheel of a car,” she said. “I am distressed and concerned by the news that he may have been driving a government vehicle. As a government official, the public expects us to be held to a higher standard and to rightly so. Still, I believe in due process, and I think it’s very premature at this stage to even discuss his possible resignation.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, did not respond to a Times Free Press request for comment on the arrest. Neither does Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville.
DUI charges are nothing new on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill.
For example, then-Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, in 2009 and 2010 championed “guns in bars” legislation that allowed holders of handgun licenses to bring their handguns into establishments selling the alcohol. The bill was vetoed by the governor at the time. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. Todd then pushed an effort to override the veto, bragging that he was going to push Bredesen’s veto “where the sun doesn’t shine”.
A former police officer, Todd was later arrested in 2011 by Nashville police for drunk driving and possession of a loaded .38 caliber handgun between the driver’s seat and the center console. He failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breath test. Todd then pleaded guilty in 2013 to drunk driving and firearms charges.
Tennessee’s DUI law carries penalties upon conviction of up to one year in jail with a warrant of at least 48 hours. He is also liable to a fine of $2,500.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.