Lawrence Sheriff Candidate Uses Shack As Voting Address - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates:

Lawrence Sheriff Candidate Uses Shack As Voting Address

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By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

LAWRENCEBURG, Tenn. - A NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered new questions about a candidate in the race for Lawrence County sheriff -- a candidate whose presence on the ballot may have helped decide the race.

The incumbent, Sheriff Kenny Taylor, lost to challenger Jimmy Brown by just 118 votes, with a third candidate, Mike Risner, pulling in almost 2,500 votes.

"We accomplished half of our goals," Risner posted on his Facebook page after the election that ended with Taylor's defeat. The question is: was Risner himself following the law?

Lawrence County elections administrator June Davis did not like it one bit when NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed up to inspect a voter registration form filed by Risner.

"You better put your camera down right now," Davis said, grabbing the camera lens.

Back in January, Risner registered to vote swearing that his residence was here in an old shack along the main road through Ethridge.

"You recently switched your voter registration to Lawrence County?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Risner.

"Sure, in order to run for sheriff," he admitted.

On his voter registration form, Risner signed a statement reading:

"I, being duly sworn on oath (or affirmation), declare that the above address is my legal residence and that I plan to remain at such residence for an undetermined period of time and say that to the best of my knowledge and belief all of the foregoing statements made by me are true."

The problem is that Risner has actually lived on a 77-acre farm in neighboring Giles County for years.

Back at the shack, a quick peek inside revealed it was virtually empty.

"So where do you sleep?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

"Hmmm," Risner answered, pondering the question. "Sometimes I sleep in Baghdad, when I worked in Baghdad. Sometimes, when I was in Vietnam, I slept three years in Vietnam."

NC5: "But you sleep in Giles County when you're here?"
Risner: "Sometimes I do."
NC5: "Most of the time?"
Risner: "Because I'm remodeling this -- yeah."

While the election coordinator didn't want to talk on camera about Risner's residence, we discovered his vehicles are actually licensed in Giles County -- the same address as his farm, the same place where his wife is still registered to vote.

"I own two homes. I can live in either home that I want to," the former candidate insisted.

"And you've been voting in Giles County," NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted.

Risner: "Sure, I changed my residence in order -- my permanent residence, my permanent address -- to run for sheriff."
NC5: "So how permanent is this place? Is there a bed inside?"
Risner: "Having a bed inside doesn't make it permanent."
NC5: "It does make it a residence."
Risner: "I've had this home for 15 years, OK?"

Yet, we found plastic covering the windows and an electric meter showing no power being used inside at all.

NC5: "There's no air conditioning on the hottest day of the year?"
Risner: "There's air conditioning there."
NC5: "It's not running, hasn't been running in a long time."
Risner: "Well, I can't tell you about that."

But at the Lawrenceburg Utility System, they say there's not been any water or gas at Risner's shack in years. And the amount of electricity he used in all of July would not even have been enough to power a 100-watt light bulb for a month.

"This building looks pretty abandoned -- is that why you don't want us to see inside?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Risner.

"No, I don't mind you seeing inside. As a matter of fact, you can spend the night here if you want to."

Suddenly, he changed his tone.

NC5: "Could you just crack the door open for us?"
Risner: "Look, you're imposing, you're invading my privacy right now."

While the election coordinator insisted she had done all she could by checking with the post office to see if he was receiving mail, Risner finally admitted he wasn't really living there -- and he pointed the finger back at the election commission.

Risner: "Everything was upfront."
NC5: "So the Election Commission knew that you did not currently live here?"
Risner: "Exactly."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates told June Davis, "Mr. Risner says you all knew what was going on."

"I don't have a comment on that," she replied.

Risner explained, "I'm remodeling the bathroom and making it livable. If I had been elected, it would have been a lot of remodeling and my wife would have moved over here with me."

The law on this question isn't exactly clear.

One member of the Lawrence County election commission told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that he personally told DA Mike Bottoms that there was a problem with Risner's residence.

But he says the DA -- who is Risner's former boss -- told him not to worry about it.

Sheriff Taylor says he may contest the election results based on Risner's residence.

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