Thousands of people may now avoid jail time in Rutherford County because of a recent ruling from a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp blasted the county's for-profit probation system in a ruling before Christmas, forcing the county to release 13 inmates from its jail.
But Sheriff Robert Arnold told NewsChannel 5 Investigates the ruling also impacts nearly 10,000 unserved arrest warrants in Rutherford County.
The warrants have accumulated over several years.
Judge Sharp's order prohibits the county from jailing people charged with misdemeanor probation violations simply because they cannot afford bond.
Sheriff Arnold said his employees are now waiving bonds on arrest warrants for people charged with misdemeanor probation violations.
Those people will still be arrested, but they will be booked and released on their own recognizance.
Now, Arnold worries his employees could make a mistake when they review the arrest warrants.
"Everybody here is human. What if we make a mistake? How's that going to affect us with this federal judge's order?" Arnold asked.
Arnold has asked the county attorney to recall approximately 9,900 unserved arrest warrants identified in a recent audit.
Arnold wants county judge's to review the warrants and officially remove the bond amounts.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates reviewed an arrest warrant from 2014 for a person charged with two misdemeanor probation violations.
His bond was set at $20,000.
"We would scratch that out," Sheriff Arnold said.
Arnold said it is highly unusual for sheriff's department employees to interpret arrest warrants and waive bond amounts.
The sheriff showed us a wall full of files with unserved arrest warrants. He said the county has 28,000 unserved warrants that date back many years.
"On some days we might get up to 250 warrants a day," Arnold said.
He said the number of arrest warrants his office has received has dramatically increased in the last five years, and his office does not have the manpower to serve them.
"We have only four people serving them and they keep coming and we get more and more every day," Arnold said.
The county and a its private probation company, PCC, are fighting a lawsuit that claims they repeatedly jail people because they are poor.
Rutherford County and PCC have said in court filings that they follow state law and denied that they jail people for failing to pay court costs and fees.
We asked the county attorney for a comment on the 9,900 unserved arrest warrants involving misdemeanor probation cases, but he did not return our call.