UPDATE: Convicted cop killer Jesse Mathews moved to Florida pris - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

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UPDATE: Convicted cop killer Jesse Mathews moved to Florida prison

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: The man who killed a Chattanooga police officer is now in a Florida prison, where he will spend the remainder of his life sentence.

Jesse Mathews, who shot and killed Sgt. Tim Chapin in a botched armed robbery in 2011, was recently transported from Riverbend Maximum Security Institution near Nashville to a prison in Florida. 

READ MORE | FIRST ON 3: Cop-killer Jesse Mathews moved to maximum security unit

According to documents obtained by Channel 3, the transfer was made on March 17. The Tennessee Department of Corrections sent a letter to the families impacted by the April 2, 2011 crime to inform them of the transfer.

“Tennessee Code Annotated 40-38-110(a)(7) requires the Department of Correction to inform registered victims of offender’s transfer to a different correctional facility if such facility has a lower security designation,” the letter reads.

The letter, that was also sent to Officer Lorin Johnston and his family, states Mathews was transferred to Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tennessee. Mathews shot Johnston in the same shooting that killed Chapin. By law, the state is required to notify victims and their families of the transfer.

Channel 3 has since learned that Mathews was only at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex for a short time before being moved out of state.

“Mr. Mathews was moved due to security reasons,” said Neysa Taylor, Director of Communications for the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

Taylor did not elaborate on what led to Mathews being moved out of state, but did confirm that he will serve the remainder of his life sentence in Florida.

"Departments of Correction work generally together when there is a security concern," Taylor said in an email to Channel 3. "The move of Mr. Mathews to Florida was a mutually beneficial move for both states."

Channel 3 wanted to know why TDOC did not notify the Chapin and Johnston families of the transfer to Florida.

“The facility that Mr. Matthews came from (BCCX) and where he was headed out of state have the same security designation as diagnostic facilities,” said Taylor.

The Florida Department of Corrections would not comment on the transfer or identify where Mathews is being housed.

“We’re unable to confirm, deny, or provide any information on this inmate’s current whereabouts, said Ashley Cook, Press Secretary.

Mathews was sentenced to life without parole in 2012 after pleading guilty to the charges against him. 


 PREVIOUS STORY: A Chattanooga cop-killer has been moved back-and-forth within the prison system. As recently as October, he was moved from a maximum security prison to one with medium security.

Then Channel 3 began asking questions and he was soon transferred back to a maximum security prison, citing a "bookkeeping error." But a Channel 3 investigation shows it might have been more than just an error and more of an oversight by the prison system's top officials.

Jesse Mathews was sentenced to life in prison for the 2011 murder of Chattanooga Police Sgt. Tim Chapin. The Department of Corrections deems his recent move from maximum to medium a mistake and its head officials admit it should never have happened.

In a phone interview with Channel 3 last month, Deputy Commissioner Jason Woodall said he was unaware of Matthews' movements within the prison system until contacted by Channel 3 and the victim's family.

But internal documents, obtained by Channel 3, show Mathews is on a "commissioner alert" status. That means before he can be moved or reclassified, the commissioner or the deputy commissioner must first approve it, per the department's security alert standards. But Woodall said his office wasn't alerted by that.

"The victim's family was the first ones to reach out to us here at central office," Woodall said in a November phone interview.

Mathews was promptly returned to a prison with more security, citing an internal "error" by the assessment committee that makes such recommendations to officials like Woodall. But now the state appears to be back-tracking and admits in an email to Channel 3 that "Individuals at central office were alerted to Mr. Mathews' movement." That statement came from the DOC's spokesperson after Channel 3 pressed the office with questions about the documentation that contradicted Woodall's original statements.

We wanted to know more about this breakdown in communication and why an offender with a violent history who requires extra security moved at least five times since 2012.

We asked for a follow-up interview, but the state declined. We also wanted to know how many state inmates are on a commission alert. Several sources within the department tell us no more than 50 but the DOC would not confirm. Mathews is set to be reviewed and possibly re-classified to lower security again in about a year.

Stay with Channel 3 as we will continue to monitor his movement within the Tennessee prison system.


PREVIOUS STORY: The man who killed a Chattanooga police sergeant has been returned to a prison with more security after a bookkeeping error by the Tennessee Department of Corrections, but he won’t likely stay there for the remainder of his life sentence.

Jesse Mathews was transported on Thursday from a facility with a medium-security classification in Clifton, Tennessee to Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. The move came after calls from Channel 3 with questions about why Mathews was being housed in a medium security facility.

According to a letter from the Tennessee Department of Corrections obtained by Channel 3, Mathews was moved to a medium security facility on October 23. The letter, dated three days after the transfer, was sent to the family of Officer Lorin Johnston, the Chattanooga police officer who survived after being shot by Mathews on April 2, 2011.

"Earlier this year Mathews was approved to move to close custody. While this is less restrictive than maximum, close custody is the appropriate designation,” said a Neysa Taylor, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

“Due to Mathews' recent reclassification, he should not have had another assessment so soon. Mr. Mathews is being returned to close custody at a state-run facility,” said Taylor on Thursday.

The TDOC was quick to correct the oversight and blames the assessment committee for not considering all factors. However, TDOC leadership says Mathews was never in a facility that was not secure.

“We would have liked to have seen the classification committee consider were other factors that were at their leisure to consider as well, basically the totality of his situation,” said Deputy Commissioner Jason Woodall, who was made aware of Mathews’ reclassification when Channel 3 and the Johnston family called his office Thursday.

Despite the mistake, Woodall says at some point Jesse Mathews will be housed in a less secure facility.

“He’s serving a life sentence; he’s not going to stay locked in a cell for the rest of his life,” Woodall told Channel 3. “It’s important that we be fair about the way that we utilize restrictive housing. Restrictive housing isn’t a punishment. Incarceration is a punishment. Restrictive housing is how we manage risk. So as he demonstrates that he doesn’t pose a risk to others or that others don’t pose a risk to him he’ll be able to earn more liberty.”

Woodall says an offender’s institutional history and behavior while incarcerated is considered during the classification process, which happens at least once a year. Woodall says Mathews has a clean institutional record, but will need to be eased into more time with the general population. Woodall plans to keep tabs on Mathews’ case as he is assessed again in about a year.

“We’ll make sure that we are plugged into that as well so we can have our finger on the pulse of his progress and his situation,” he said.

Mathews, who pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, was sentenced to life without parole plus 25 years in the death of Sgt. Tim Chapin. Mathews shot and killed Chapin in a botched robbery in April 2011. Mathews also injured a second officer, Officer Lorin Johnston.

Second medium classification for Mathews

This latest move was the second time Mathews has been moved to a medium-security prison since he pleaded guilty to murdering police Sergeant Tim Chapin in a 2011 botched robbery.

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections' definition of medium security, Mathews has "moderate supervision" in a medium security prison. His movement within the prison is restricted, but he has the ability to participate in programs.

In 2013, the Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Corrections granted the Hamilton County District Attorney’s request to return Mathews to maximum security after Channel 3 uncovered his transfer to a medium facility just two months after pleading guilty. At the time, the District Attorney’s office said Mathews belonged in maximum security because he faked an illness to arm himself in the Hamilton County Jail and was on parole escape status in Colorado when he murdered Chapin.

Channel 3 reached out to District Attorney Neal Pinkston multiple times to determine if a similar request would be made Thursday. His office declined to comment.

Channel 3 has learned the TDOC reached out to Mathews’ attorney about his classification earlier this year.

Lee Davis, who was one of Mathews’ court-appointed attorneys, tells Channel 3 he received a call from an employee at the facility where Mathews was being housed in July. Davis says he was alerted to the fact that Mathews had been in “administrative segregation” by error for more than two years, meaning he spent most of his time in solitary confinement.

“I felt we had an ethical duty to let DOC know about the error,” Davis told Channel 3.

Davis says he made the department of corrections aware but never asked for Mathews to be downgraded or moved.

“Jesse Mathews pleaded guilty to the crimes he was indicted with and sentenced to serve life without parole,” Davis said. “He has had no infractions since being in DOC custody. DOC needs to follow their own procedures and policy. Mr. Mathews has done nothing in violation of his plea agreement.”

Timeline of Jesse Mathews’ time in TDOC Custody

  • December 2012 Mathews pleads guilty in Hamilton County Criminal Court
  • February 2013 Mathews transported to a medium security prison following a 30 day assessment period
  • February 18, 2013 Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox asks the state to reconsider Mathews’ placement and provides additional information on issues with Mathews while at the Hamilton County Jail. The TDOC reassesses Mathews and reassigns him to maximum security facility.
  • February 2013 – July 2015 Mathews remains in a maximum security facility under “administrative segregation”, spending the majority of his day in solitary confinement.
  • April 2015 Mathews’ court-appointed attorney, Lee Davis, receives a call from a file manager at the facility where Mathews is being housed, saying it was “inhumane” to classify any inmate under “administrative segregation” for more than two years. Davis is asked to alert the TDOC so it could reasses s Mathews. Davis says he sent a letter asking Mathews be properly classified within the maximum security facility. Davis received a letter back from the TDOC saying it
  • July 2015 Davis receives a letter from TDOC saying an error was made and it was time to reassess Mathews. Mathews is moved to a “close custody” status within the maximum security facility.
  • October 23, 2015 In error, the TDOC reassessment committee assesses Mathews again. He is moved to a medium security facility.
  • October 27, 2015 TDOC sends letters to registered victims about the transfer to a facility with less security.
  • November 12, 2015 Johnston family and Channel 3 contact TDOC to question recent transfer. TDOC discovers it made an error in reassessing Mathews too early and returns him to a maximum security prison. He is returned to the “close custody” classification in the prison system

PREVIOUS STORY: The Tennessee Department of Corrections says Jesse Mathews will be transferred to a prison with a higher level of security after questions from Channel 3 and family of the officer Mathews shot.

"Every year inmates are assessed and classified based on a number of factors including offense and behavior while incarcerated," wrote Neysa Taylor, spokesperson for TDOC, in an email to Channel 3.

"Earlier this year Mathews was approved to move to close custody. While this is less restrictive than maximum, close custody is the appropriate designation. Due to Mathews' recent reclassification, he should not have had another assessment so soon. Mr. Mathews is being returned to close custody at a state-run facility."

"After Mr. Mathews was moved from maximum custody to close he should not have been reassessed that quickly," she added when asked how the error happened. "The facility classification committee did their normal comprehensive review but did not see that he had recently changed levels."

Mathews, who was recently placed in a prison with a medium-security classification, will be transported to a facility in Nashville. 


PREVIOUS STORY: The man convicted of killing a Chattanooga police sergeant and wounding another officer has been moved to a lower security prison.

Channel 3 has learned Jesse Mathews was transported from West Tennessee State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison, to South Central Correctional Center, which has a medium-security classification.

According to a letter from the Tennessee Department of Corrections obtained by Channel 3, the transfer took place on October 23. The letter, dated three days later, was sent to the family of Officer Lorin Johnston, the Chattanooga police officer who survived after being shot by Mathews on April 2, 2011.

“Tennessee (law) requires the Department of Corrections to inform registered victims of an offender’s transfer to a different correctional facility if such facility has a lower security designation,” the letter states.

“All Tennessee Department of Corrections Facilities are secure prisons,” the letter continues. “A lower security designation denotes that this facility is limited to inmate custody levels it can hold.”

The Tennessee Department of Corrections has not yet responded to requests for information on why Mathews was moved. The Johnston family has also reached out for an explanation beyond what was stated in the letter. 

This is the second time Mathews has been moved to a medium-security prison since he pleaded guilty to murdering police Sergeant Tim Chapin in a 2011 botched robbery.

In 2013, the Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Corrections granted the Hamilton County District Attorney’s request to return Mathews to maximum security after Channel 3 uncovered his transfer to a medium facility just two months after pleading guilty. At the time, the District Attorney’s office said Mathews belonged in maximum security because he faked an illness to arm himself in the Hamilton County Jail and was on parole escape status in Colorado when he murdered Chapin.

Channel 3 reached out to District Attorney Neal Pinkston Thursday morning to find out whether he will request a move back to maximum security. We will update this story when there is a response. 

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections' definition of medium security, Mathews has "moderate supervision" in a medium security prison. His movement within the prison is restricted, but he has the ability to participate in programs.

Stay with Channel 3 for more on this story. 

READ MORE | Prosecutor calls Mathews' move to maximum security 'good, but no victory'

READ MORE | FIRST ON 3: Cop-killer Jesse Mathews moved to maximum security unit

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