Sevier County DA explains decision to drop criminal charges in Gatlinburg fires

GATLINBURG (WATE) – On Friday prosecutors dropped charges against the two boys that were initially labeled as being responsible for starting Tennessee’s largest and deadliest wildfire this century.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn says it all came down to the state not having jurisdiction inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He said he learned about the state not having jurisdiction just days before the announcement during an interview.

The case was changing so quickly, General Dunn says, he was not able to reach out to the 14 families who lost loved ones in the wildfires, letting them know that charges would be dropped.

Related: Charges dropped against juveniles in Gatlinburg wildfires

“We prayed early, we prayed early on Friday about the decision on what we should do and how we should do it and we acted upon that,” said General Dunn.

General Dunn said the outcome was disappointing. “We had, as I said, a wealth of information to go forward in our case, but we found out we did not have jurisdiction and it is very disappointing because we invested all of these months, hours.”

Dunn said he still feels Gatlinburg got the justice it deserves.

“Absolutely. Absolutely justice was served because we live on laws. We’re a nation of laws. We followed the law, the law doesn’t give us jurisdiction. So, we don’t have jurisdiction,” added General Dunn.

The case is now being handed over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I know of nothing that I would have done differently in that, I know of nothing,” said General Dunn. “Law was followed exactly. The only thing I could have done differently was to have known I didn’t have jurisdiction in the park.”

General Dunn directed questions about whether the boys had been held in a juvenile detention center during the entire investigation or if they had shown any remorse to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

When asked about the letter General Dunn wrote regarding open record requests, he explained it is his duty to discourage law enforcement and city leaders not to give facts or statements that he cannot.

“I was doing what my rules of professional responsibility require me to do,” said General Dunn.

General Dunn says he knows of only one other case that might be affected by the Memorandum of Agreement. Going forward, all will have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. General Dunn says unless there’s another theory or document, his office will not be able to prosecute and it will have to be dropped at a state level.

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