FBI special agent Ken Hillman was one of the key figures in an internal investigation of a Ringgold police sergeant, who was fired Feb. 15 after his superiors
learned he let Hillman off during a possible DUI call at Ringgold’s Acoustic Cafe, and instead taxied Hillman and two women to Chattanooga on Oct. 24.
That investigation also revealed that Hillman himself was under investigation by the FBI, according to Ringgold attorney McCracken Poston.
Poston said he notified the FBI of allegations Hillman had been letting civilians assist with his task force. Herbert “Buzz” Franklin, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit district attorney, confirmed that Hillman is the focus of the investigation.
Hillman’s group, the Northwest Georgia Crimes Against Children Task Force, is a unit comprised of officers from different local agencies that look to catch people online who respond to ads and chats for the purposes of having sexual encounters with underage subjects.
The task force agents post the ads on such websites as Craigslist, arrange meetings with the would-be offenders who think they are meeting with children, and then arrest the suspects on child sex charges at the designated meeting place.
Poston alleges a woman named Angela Russell, who was also one of the women with Hillman during the Oct. 24 incident, might have been recently posing as an undercover task force officer.
Poston is representing Russell’s husband in a divorce case.
“The officers that work on task forces like this are specially trained in how to communicate with targets,” Poston said. “Private citizens should not be communicating with possible suspects in an undercover operation. If they are, then it certainly raises a lot of questions about the credibility of the operation.”
Franklin said recent issues regarding Hillman currently have nothing to do with cases that involve charges filed by the task force.
“From what I’ve been advised, there is nothing at this time that would change or jeopardize any of our current cases,” Franklin said.
David Dunn, lead public defender for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit — which includes Catoosa, Walker, Dade and Chattooga counties — offered a similar opinion, saying that more information would have to be obtained before any cases would be affected.
“We are aware of the scrutiny surrounding the task force,” Dunn said. “We will evaluate the situation as to whether or not it could possibly impact our current cases.”
Dunn also addressed the idea of past cases being affected.
“Theoretically it could impact old cases, but at this point it does not appear so,” he said.
According to the internal investigation conducted by the Ringgold Police Department, on the night of Oct. 24, Ringgold police Sgt. Tom Evans responded to a 911 call about a possible drunk driver leaving the Acoustic Café restaurant at 61 RBC Drive in Ringgold.
Upon arrival, Evans encountered Hillman, who was with Russell — estranged wife of millionaire Emerson Russell of Catoosa County — and her daughter, 25-year-old Katherine Russell. Evans questioned the trio in the parking lot of the establishment as they were preparing to leave the location.
All three appeared to be intoxicated, and at least one of them had been refused service by a café employee who had placed the 911 call, reports show.
Instead of arresting them for DUI, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, or any other charge related to such a call, Evans called in a “10-24” code (done with assignment) to Catoosa County dispatch, and then drove them out of the city in his patrol car to Angela Russell’s condominium in Chattanooga before driving Katherine Russell back to her car in Ringgold.
Ringgold Police Chief Dan Bilbrey fired Evans on Feb. 15.
Evans said he likely would have arrested both Russell women had Hillman not been with them, and that he didn’t file a report on the incident at Hillman’s request.
Bilbrey said he never talked to an FBI agent in connection with the case and indicted it was not needed since Evans provided him with information he needed for his internal investigation.