A Loudon County Sheriff’s Office captain retired Friday after Sheriff Tim Guider learned of a personal relationship with a former female inmate.
LCSO Capt. Jeff Russell, 50, was under scrutiny for a possible inappropriate relationship with Courtney Bingham, who was first charged in 2018 for statutory rape and solicitation of a minor.
Bingham was initially housed at the Loudon County Jail for 12 days Dec. 4-16, 2018. Bingham spent another day at the jail Aug. 15, 2019, for capias-criminal court. She was released on bond both times.
She was investigated late last year following an alleged false physician’s note used to postpone sentencing after she pleaded guilty in September in Loudon County Criminal Court to four counts of aggravated statutory rape and one count of solicitation of a minor to commit statutory rape by an authority figure stemming from her arrest in 2018.
Bingham was brought into LCSO custody Oct. 30, 2020, but stayed in the county jail for only one day before being moved to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office jail, Jimmy Davis, LCSO chief deputy, said.
Guider said Bingham was moved to MCSO because she had been sentenced, and MCSO can accept state inmates.
Russell’s relationship with Bingham came to Guider’s attention when 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson’s office began investigating Bingham for the alleged forged physician’s note. During that investigation, Johnson came across correspondence between Bingham and Johnson, Guider said, adding that Johnson found no criminal activity in the correspondence.
“The general at that point met with me and Jeff to discuss it and ask him some questions, too,” Guider said. “It turns out that he was more a friend of the family. Of course, she had already been sentenced with what she was charged with, and he was playing the go-between, between her mom — he knew her mom better than her initially — and so he was just kind of going between her and mom and trying to get information.”
If there was an intimate relationship, Guider said that happened before Bingham was sentenced and did not occur at the jail.
Guider maintains Russell and Bingham did not know each other during her first stay at the county jail in 2018. The two years between her first and most recent stay in 2020 were when they became acquainted, Guider said.
After Guider discovered the correspondence between Bingham and Russell, he said he spoke with MCSO Sheriff Tommy Jones to have Bingham transferred to the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.
“What occurred, I haven’t seen any of that,” Guider said. “But just what I’ve heard that if there was any intimacy it was during the time she was out of jail, before she was sentenced. I’m not sure if it was pre-court or not. It doesn’t look good, and he understands that.”
Guider described Russell as “remorseful” and “apologetic,” emphasizing Russell told the sheriff he would never do anything to put a negative light on the office.
LCSO does not condone illegal activity and will not hesitate to arrest one of its own, Guider said.
“The general assures me that there’s nothing illegal about it,” Guider said. “To our knowledge, nothing happened here, nothing happened at Monroe County Jail. It was all pre-jail time. Was it right? What happened? I don’t know what happened. We can speculate. But was it right? Maybe he violated another oath.”
Johnson, however, said the investigation Guider referenced did not happen.
“We have no investigation regarding Capt. Russell,” Johnson said. “We have an investigation on Courtney Bingham relative to forging a doctor’s excuse that she tried to use to get out of her trial and sentencing and all that. That investigation’s ongoing, so I can’t comment on it since that investigation’s ongoing.”
Despite repeated attempts, Russell could not be reached for comment by phone or email.
MCSO is still processing a Freedom of Information Act request by the News-Herald to get access to email, text messages and phone recordings sent and received by Bingham while she was in Monroe County custody.
Guider on Friday told LCSO employees about Russell’s retirement, which was effective Friday after 30 years of service with the department. Russell will receive the same retirement package all city and county employees receive from Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.
Russell’s “sped up” retirement is in the best interest of the department, Guider said. A replacement will not immediately be sought, but Russell’s duties will be divided between current leadership positions.
Guider said it was better for Russell to retire now.
“We’ve dealt with, charged our own people before when they’ve done wrong,” Guider said. “We’ve had corrections officers fool around with inmates back in the day. Those people were prosecuted and/or terminated. I don’t put up with that stuff. I’m not putting up with it right now. I’ve dealt with it and I wish Jeff the best moving forward. And I certainly pray for this department and Jeff as well.”
The sheriff and Davis believe there could be political motivation behind the rumors involving Russell.
“One of the accusations was that we’re overlooking it ... because Jimmy and him are good friends,” Guider said. “You look at based on that, ‘Nothing will happen to him because Jimmy and him are good friends.’ Well, yeah, Jimmy and Jeff have worked together for 25 years. ... I don’t know if you say good friends, but I don’t think Jimmy would risk his career or his campaign on something like this. In this particular instance, somebody’s out to kind of spearhead Jimmy I think.”