KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones defended the controversial comments he made after the federal government's decision to deny the county's application for the 287(g) immigration program. Jones talked about his statements Thursday morning on NewsTalk 98.7's Triple H Morning Show.
Jones raised eyebrows earlier this month when he promised in a statement "to stack violators like cordwood." The remarks were made after the county was denied a request for the 287(g) immigration program that would have trained deputies to enforce immigration laws and scrutinize the immigration status of people arrested and held in jail.
Sheriff Jones told NewsTalk's Hallerin Hill the phrase is a commonly used East Tennessee colloquialism and wasn't mean to offend.
"Anyone that knows me knows that the meaning of that statement was not literally stack humans in jail," said Jones. "I know this was purely a misdirection that takes people's eye off the ball related to the facts of this program."
Jones says he was frustrated over the federal government's decision because of the money the program could have saved Knox County taxpayers.
"I am really frustrated." said Jones. "We've been dealing with jail overcrowding since 1979, and I thought this was a way to help the overcrowding situation plus save Knox County taxpayers some money, and this was a perfect fit for Knox County."
Jones also defended the program to those who claimed it was discriminatory.
"It wasn't inhumane," said Jones. "It didn't violate anyone's civil rights. I'll put the Knox County Sheriff's Office record on human and civil rights up against any law enforcement agency in the United States of America."
Jones says the majority of calls and emails he's received regarding this controversy have been overwhelmingly positive, and even received support from at least one Hispanic officer on the force.
Jones says the letter he received from ICE cited sequestration cuts as the reason for the denial, which he says he doesn't believe. Jones calls sequestration "a term for things that politically this administration doesn't want to do."
The American Civil Liberties Union sent Sheriff Jones a letter on Wednesday, saying he does not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, and warned that if he does, the sheriff's department risks liability for constitutional