GREEENEVILLE—Charges against Bybee restaurateur Eddie Bruce Overholt in connection with a July 18 meeting of the Industrial Board of Greene County have been dismissed, The Greeneville Sun learned Thursday afternoon.
The charges of disrupting a meeting and resisting stop/arrest were dismissed on Friday, Aug. 15, by Greene County General Sessions Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. at the request of the office of 3rd Judicial District Attorney General C. Berkeley Bell.
Bailey’s action means that the scheduled arraignment of Overholt in General Sessions Court on Sept. 22 is no longer expected to take place. No further court action on the charges is anticipated at this time.
Overholt was notified of the dismissal by letter early this week, he said in a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun late Thursday afternoon.
He said that neither he nor a representative, such as an attorney, had had any contact with Bell’s office concerning the charges.
He also said he had no advance knowledge that Bell’s office would ask for the dismissal.
He added, however, that he has expected since being arrested last month that the charges would be dropped because, he said, they are “ridiculous.”
Opposes Plant, Pipelines
Overholt, 76, a widely-known and popular figure in western Greene County and in Cocke County, is co-owner with his wife of the popular C.J. Papadops restaurant in the Briar Thicket community of Cocke County. The area is near western Greene County and the Nolichucky River.
He has become known as an outspoken opponent of the US Nitrogen’ plant being located in Greene County.
He emphasized Thursday in a lengthy telephone interview that he believes the company’s liquid ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility, now under construction at Midway, will be a threat to the river and its ecosystem.
He has expressed especially strong opposition to the building of a proposed double-pipeline of some 10 miles between the US Nitrogen plant at Midway and the Nolichucky River.
One pipeline would channel water to the plant to cool its manufacturing operations. The other pipeline would channel cooling water back to the river.
‘Nolle Prosequi’ Motions
Documents at the office of Circuit Court Clerk Pam Venerable state that Assistant District Attorney General Jon C. Thompson filed two “Nolle Prosequi” motions with Bailey on the morning of Aug. 15.
“Nolle prosequi” is a legal term which means after reviewing the cases, the state does not wish to prosecute the charges at this time.
Bailey sustained (granted) both motions, and ruled that both charges were dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning that they may be brought up again within a year if the state should choose to do so.
Amy Rose, public relations director for the Town of Greeneville, also confirmed that the charges against Overholt had been dropped.
Rose said that City Administrator Todd Smith had told her that, following Overholt’s arrest by a Greeneville police officer on July 18, the Town had transferred the charges to Bell’s office.
Smith said the decision to drop the charges was made by the District Attorney General’s office, Rose said.
Smith also said that the Town had no comment on the matter at this time, Rose added.
Expected Charges To Be Dropped
Overholt said that, although he had no specific warning that the dismissal action would be taken, he had expected the charges to be dropped at some point before the matter came to trial. “I couldn’t see [the charges] standing up,” he said.
“There would have been someting wrong with somebody if I had had to go to court on it,” he said, although he added that he had been prepared to defend himself and his actions on his own in court if that became necessary._ “I had been expecting [the dismissal] for sometime. I didn’t even have a lawyer hired for it. I wasn’t going to get an attorney for that. There would have been no reason to ...
“If it had gone to court, I was going to ask for it to go to the grand jury because I didn’t see any chance that 12 citizens of Greeneville [would indict under these circumstances].”
“I guess to keep from embarrassing themselves, they decided to drop them,” he said.
Asked if he was relieved, he replied: “I’m relieved I don’t have to go through the aggravation. I wasn’t worried that I was going to be convicted.”
To File Lawsuit?
Overholt declined to comment Thursday when asked if he planned to file a lawsuit in connection with the charges.
He said that he had “continuously” received emails and Facebook posts expressing support for him, as well as offers to help him finance a defense.
“I have quite a bit of money [sent for legal defense] that I’m going to send back to people,” he said. “I hope they give [the money] to the other people in Greene County so they can use it in other legal battles against the US Nitrogen plant and the proposed pipeline.”
He also stated that, in all the hundreds of messages he had received since his ejection from the meeting and his arrest, “I haven’t had any negative input to me ... on this.”
Bell Explains Process
In a separate telephone interview late Thursday afternoon, Bell confirmed that the decision to ask for dismissal of the charges was made by his office on its own, without input or negotiation involving Overholt or others.
Asked how he and his staff reached their decision on the case, he explained the process he and colleagues had followed in deciding what course of action to take on the charge of disrupting a meeting.
“Initially, when I first heard about the charges, I went to the Internet and looked at the video of the proceedings and compared what the video showed with what the law prohibits, and, in my opinion, the actions of Mr. Overholt did not violate the law that he was charged with violating [Disrupting a Meeting],” Bell said.
“I then asked my assistants — Cecil Mills, Dan Armstrong, Jon Thompson especially — to review the videos and compare them with the law.
“None of us felt that Mr. Overholt had violated the law that he had been charged with.
“We gave it considerable time and research, and that delayed filing the motions. We wanted to make sure it was the appropriate response before we did it.”
The decision of the Attorney General’s office was different—although related—concerning the Resisting Arrest charge, Bell said.
“We just felt that in a prosecution before a jury, if we could not successfully produce evidence that he had indeed violated what he had been charged with in the first instance [Disrupting a Meeting], it would be very hard for us to convict him of violating what he had been charged with in the second instance [Resisting Arrest],” Bell said.
“And that was the basis for dismissing both of them [the two charges against Overholt].”
The two charges against Overholt were placed on Friday, July 18, after Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles, who also serves as chairman of the Industrial Development Board, directed Greeneville police officers serving as security for the meeting to take Overholt out.
Broyles asked that Overholt be removed after warning the standing-room-only audience that those making any further “outbursts” would be removed from the G. Thomas Love Board Room at the Greeneville Light & Power System building, where the meeting was being held to discuss an action supportive of the controversial double-pipeline.
Just after Broyles gave his warning, Overholt, who was standing close to the front of the audience several feet from the table where the board members were meeting, spoke out to ask that board members talk more loudly so those in the audience could hear what was being said.
No microphones were in use at the meeting, although they are often used when public meetings are held in the room, and some in the audience had complained previously that they could not hear the board members.
Broyles said later in an interview that he had moved the meeting to a larger room than usual because he expected 30-40 people, a much larger audience than usual for an IDB meeting.
But he stated that he did not ask that microphones be provided because he did not expect the very large audience — probably 125 or more — that turned up.
Overholt repeatedly asked the officer removing him by the arm and shoulder, “Am I under arrest?”
He said later that he didn’t consider his request that the board members speak more loudly to be “an outburst” of the kind that the mayor had warned the audience against.
Broyles did not direct that Overholt be arrested, but during his removal from the room by a Greeneville police officer, the officer did decide to place him under arrest.
He was subsequently charged with disrupting a meeting and resisting stop/arrest, and was booked at the Greene County Detention Center. He posted bond and was released pending his arraignment on Monday, July 21.
That arraignment hearing was continued by Judge Bailey to Sept. 22.
News of the arrest and video footage of it taken by members of the audience spread rapidly to news media throughout the country and even abroad via social media.