Training for top sheriff’s official questioned by the state

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Shelby County Sheriff`s Office told WREG it is looking for a few good men and women, but there's a catch.

During the Sheriff's Office most recent request, those applying needed prior law enforcement experience and to already be certified by the state of Tennessee.

However, that was not the Sheriff's requirement when he hired his chief inspector.

Increasing the rank and file was one of Sheriff Bill Oldham's goals.

He came up with cheaper ways to do it by recruiting officers already trained and state certified.

"We have a veteran individual who hasn't cost us what it cost to hire a class where you do 20-plus weeks," Oldham said.

The sheriff wanted those officers to have the highest standards already, but earlier this year when it came to hiring one of his top cops, he overlooked a lack of certification and training and hired Bob Nations as one of his chief inspectors.

"At the time [when Nations was hired], he was [POST certified] out of the state of Mississippi," Oldham said. "He had a certification there and he has a tremendous amount of experience. Bob had a long, lengthy career in law enforcement prior to him coming here."

Nation's hiring to one of Oldham's top positions came just weeks after Mayor Mark Luttrell fired him as the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency director.

Oldham hired Nations to oversee other officers even though he wasn't even certified to carry a gun as an officer in Tennessee.

Some accused the sheriff of hiring Nations as a favor for a friend.

"The expertise that Bob has is something that benefits not only the Shelby County Sheriff's Office but also Shelby County," Oldham said.

WREG uncovered documents that showed the state agency that certifies law enforcement officers had concerns about the type of training Nations did not have.

The Sheriff's Office sent Nations through what it called accelerated training and allowed him to attend selected hours instead of the entire transitional school required of officers coming from other states.

Minutes from Nations' hearing showed Commissioner Rita Baker saying she was concerned they would set a precedent when they allowed "piecemeal training for one person".

Another commissioner, James Wheeler, said the POST commission tried to hold all people to the same standard; whether a chief deputy or a street officer, the "qualifications were the same."

A sheriff representative pressed commissioners to make an exception telling them Nations didn't complete some required training because that was never going to be his job.

He asked them to allow Nations' prior experience and schooling to suffice.

The commission granted it but the flack over Nations' hiring did not stop.

A county commissioner questioned the appointments during recent budget hearings.

"As long as we are giving favors and jobs away, that's what's breaking this county," Commissioner Terry Roland said during an interview in May.

Still, the Sheriff stood by his man.

"My reputation shows when I'm involved, I'm going to make sure I touch all the bases, that I'm going to do the right thing," Oldham said.

After seeing promotions for this story, the sheriff's legal adviser sent WREG a letter saying Nations was uniquely qualified to serve, and not only did he receive more than the required training, but it was geared to his specific duties.