District Attorney Ashley Wright said that an arrest warrant charges Tuten with the theft of a 2004 Nissan Altima about July 30. The vehicle belonged to a dead man or his heirs.
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has temporarily assumed authority of the coroner’s office and personnel employed in it, according to a department statement, which says it was called to assist the FBI and district attorney’s office in executing arrest warrants on “an elected government official.”
The office’s media release adds that information surfaced during an investigation that “county property and/or employees may be subjected to potential harm.”
Under the Georgia Constitution, the sheriff has the right to “enforce laws enacted for the protection of the lives, persons, property, health and morals of the people.”
Wright and FBI supervisory senior resident agent Jim Harrison declined to say whether other charges are anticipated because of the ongoing investigation.
If Tuten is indicted on any criminal charge, the process to determine what happens to the elective office can begin, said Sasha Dlugolenski, Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokeswoman.
“Once we receive the certified indictment letter, the governor has to wait at least 14 days to appoint a review commission comprised of two coroners and the attorney general,” Dlugolenski wrote in an e-mail. “The commission then has 14 days to study the case and determine if the indictment relates to and adversely affects the administration of the elected office. The panel will decide whether or not to suspend the elected official then issue their recommendation to the governor.”
Tuten, 70, was a deputy coroner for 26 years before being elected coroner in 2004.
He previously worked as an EMT, an Augusta Police Department officer and department training officer, and a police chief in Warren County in the 1980s.
Tuten has received three awards from the Georgia Coroners Association. As a deputy coroner, he got the Harry Pippin Award in 1999; as a coroner, he received the E. Leroy Sims Distinguished Service Award in 2010 and the A.R. King Award in 2012. All awards winners are nominated by their peers.
The coroner’s office has been tainted by scandal in the past. In 2008, a former assistant coroner under Tuten pleaded guilty to stealing several gift cards at a New Year’s Eve death scene.
Charlena Graham was sentenced to seven years’ probation under the First Offender Act. Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet also ordered Graham to pay $325 in restitution and $5,000 in fines.