Former Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy Faces Criminal Charges Including Perjury and Official Misconduct

103288370 Celeste Murphy mug t800
Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office / Celeste Murphy

Chattanooga, TN – Former Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy turned herself in at the Hamilton County Jail on Thursday to face a series of criminal charges including perjury, official misconduct, illegal voter registration, and falsely filling out official documents. This development follows a grand jury indictment earlier in the week.

Indictment Details

On Tuesday, a grand jury returned a 17-count indictment against Murphy, which includes 14 felony charges and three misdemeanor charges. The indictment became public after Murphy, 56, surrendered to authorities. Among the charges are:

  • Illegal voter registration
  • False entries on official registration or election documents
  • Three counts of false entries in governmental records
  • Three counts of forgery
  • Three counts of perjury
  • Six counts of official misconduct

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported in March that Murphy’s Tennessee voter registration conflicted with a property tax exemption she received in Fulton County, Georgia, where she claimed a home as her primary residence. Both documents were signed under penalty of perjury.

Investigation and Charges

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has been investigating Murphy since April, focusing on allegations of official misconduct. According to the TBI, Murphy knowingly entered false information on several government documents related to establishing residency in Chattanooga, despite swearing to their truth. The official documents in question include her voter registration form, driver’s license application, and a residency affidavit from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Murphy’s indictment states that she falsified these documents while employed as a public servant, leading to the official misconduct charges. The documents listed different addresses in Chattanooga, none of which she reportedly lived at, according to the indictment.

Reaction and Resignation

Murphy resigned from her position as police chief on Wednesday. Her resignation letter states she will receive three months of severance pay, totaling approximately $44,400 based on her $177,700 salary. She opted out of the city’s fire and police pension fund, according to her contract.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly accepted Murphy’s resignation and announced that Executive Chief Harry Sommers, who joined the department under Murphy in 2022, will serve as interim chief. A search committee, led by Chattanooga City Council member Raquetta Dotley, will begin the process of finding Murphy’s permanent replacement.

Community and Legal Perspectives

Local activist Marie Mott suggested that Murphy faced higher scrutiny due to being a Black woman and an outsider in the community. Mott expressed disappointment that Murphy did not address the residency issues when they first arose, noting that the charges stem from paperwork discrepancies that could have been corrected.

The case will be prosecuted by Michael Dunavant, a former federal prosecutor and state district attorney, after Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp recused herself. The local Fraternal Order of Police expressed support for the TBI’s investigation and committed to assisting in the search for a new police chief.

Murphy’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 12 in front of Judge Boyd Patterson. The outcome of this high-profile case is likely to have significant implications for the Chattanooga Police Department and the community’s trust in local law enforcement.

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