For the better part of six hours on Tuesday, embattled Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold sat in a federal court listening to testimony and phone calls that could send him to federal prison until his upcoming corruption trial in February.
According to prosecutors, Arnold allegedly assaulted his wife on Labor Day, then used deputies from the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office to help cover up the incident – allegations that they argued violate Arnold’s terms of his pre-trial release.
Arnold had little reaction as he sat in court and was forced to listen to his wife’s candid, at times graphic phone conversations with the man she admitted to having an affair with, former Eagleville Police Chief Elijah Stuard.
“Do you not realize how not normal my life is living with him? Do you have any idea what it’s like living with him for all these years,” Mrs. Arnold could be heard saying on the phone calls that she didn’t know were being recorded.
“He (Sheriff Arnold) told me not to make a statement, I want to make a statement but I’m f—scared … I’m f—scared for me and the kids,” she added.
In the phone calls, former Chief Stuard could at time be heard calling Mrs. Arnold “Baby.”
Arnold sat next to his lawyer, acknowledging little in the room; his wife was not present but in the back row sat a small group of Rutherford County residents who are trying to oust him from office.
Prosecutors said that on September 5th, 2016 Arnold came home from a pool party and was intoxicated. In a written statement that she refused to sign, but said was truthful, Mrs. Arnold told TBI agents that Arnold then took an Ambien in an effort to get to sleep.
Attorneys told the court that Mrs. Arnold said the Sheriff became angry with her after she stopped having sex with him and that’s when the situation escalated.
In phone calls played for the court, Mrs. Arnold said that she twisted the Sheriff’s nipple in an effort to get him away from her.
“He (Sheriff Arnold) said ‘that f— hurt’ and shoved me down ...he punched me in the arm,” she went on to say, “What scared me is when he got me on the bed and had his body weight on me. ‘I’ll put all my body weight on you until you stop breathing," Mrs. Arnold recalled the Sheriff saying.
“Robert said ‘what happens in these walls, stays in these walls,” Mrs. Arnold was heard saying on one phone call from early September.
The judge, who will rule on the motion Wednesday, had no reaction to the phone calls but appeared to be concerned during some of the recordings.
Arnold – along with his uncle, John Vanderveer, and Joe Russell, an accounting chief at the sheriff’s office – are facing a 14-count federal indictment in a case related to the unlawful sale of e-Cigarettes at the county jail.
As part of his release, Sheriff Arnold agreed that he would remain law abiding and not commit a Federal, State, or local crime while on release. The Sheriff has not been formally charged with a crime relating to the alleged assault but prosecutors argued their evidence shows Arnold is a danger to the safety of another person or the community.
Prosecutors also argued that Sheriff Arnold coerced his wife into not testifying in court on Tuesday, instead she only agreed to sign a prepared affidavit stating that she “did not feel scared.”
In phone calls played for the court, Mrs. Arnold could be heard saying, “I’m hiding from me being the one that puts him in jail.”
Federal attorneys spent the better part of four hours trying to convince the judge that Sheriff Arnold, who was first elected in 2010, has continued to abuse his position of power to manipulate others.
“TBI agents regularly hear from Sheriff’s Office employees who are concerned about retaliation for speaking out,” the federal prosecutor said.
In an attempt to keep Sheriff Arnold from going back to jail, Arnold’s defense attorney called his mother-in-law to testify about her daughter’s marriage which she described as “stormy.”
“I get tired of the fighting. They argue all the time,” the Sheriff’s mother-in-law said, adding that she never had a reason to fear for her daughter’s safety.
The move seemed to pit family member against family member, airing out details that seemed to expose deep divides in the Arnold family, all in Federal Court.
Sheriff Arnold and his wife have two children together. The judge in the case asked both sides whether an order of protection would be an appropriate resolution to the issue to which prosecutors responded, “He oversees the 5th largest county in the state, how can we ensure the doesn’t use those resources … he’s still engaging in manipulative behavior.”
Although prosecutors had no physical evidence of abuse to present in court, their argument for the sheriff to be detained gained more traction on Tuesday evening when the pre-trial service counselor announced that they do not believe Arnold should remain out on bond.
“We do not believe there are conditions that he won’t violate conditions of his release,” the probation officer said.
Citing a massive amount of evidence to consider the judge said she will make on ruling on Sheriff Arnold's bond Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.