The frustration of a homeless veteran trying to overcome stumbling blocks in his path to getting the help he needs boiled within and on Sept. 17 spilled out of his mouth and into the room of a driver’s license office.
The utterance that Stephen Michael Harrington, 63, — a simple illustration of his exasperation — resulted in his arrest. He remained jailed until Monday when two local judges tossed cases out against him.
It all began with a simple trip to the Crossville driver’s testing office of the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles. The purpose of his visit was to inquire as to why, after 18 months, the laminated Tennessee identification card he paid $12 for had not arrived.
There was no explanation, other than possibly the wrong mailing address had been given. Harrington was told he could pay another $12 for a replacement card.
Problem is, according to Harrington’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Laura Dykes, efforts on Harrington’s behalf were underway to relocate her client to a veteran’s home in Florida where he can receive the care and treatment he needs. One of the requirements is a photo ID.
He will also be relocating near his son’s home.
What happened next is up to interpretation. Harrington admits that he made a flippant comment to illustrate his frustration. A DMV employee took his comment as a threat.
Harrington claims he said that while he does not condone it, he understands why Timothy McVeigh did what he did. McVeigh is the American domestic terrorist who was convicted in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building that killed 168 persons.
Crossville Police responded, Harrington and Dennis Cahoon, a veterans’ advocate who was assisting with Harrington’s preparations to relocate, walked outside and waited for police to arrive.
Ptl. Tyrel Lorenz filed a report that said Harrington’s statement “alarmed” the DMV staff and that Harrington was taken into custody for disorderly conduct. He has been in jail ever since a probation violation warrant was issued, based on the new charge.
Monday morning General Sessions Judge Larry Warner threw out the case against Harrington. Later that day, Criminal Court Judge Gary McKenzie presided over a probation violation hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Philip Hatch felt caught in a bad position. He later said if the state had dropped the probation violation warrant and then something happened, the state would have suffered blame.
Few, if any in the courtroom, believed Harrington sincerely wanted to blow up the DMV testing office.
Kimbala Jane Woody, a DMV employee, testified that Harrington was referred to her work station after he became angry over not receiving his state ID card. She quoted him as stating “he knew why now Timothy McVeigh did what he did.”
She took the threat seriously and called 911.
Under cross examination from Dykes, Woody asked if the witness understood how one on a very limited income could become angry at being told they had to pay for something for which they had already paid.
The DMV worker said she did not evacuate the building. She testified she was uncertain if Harrington would carry out the implied threat on that day or later. Woody did tell the court that Harrington repeatedly apologized for his remark and simply waited on police to arrive.
Probation officer Christopher Goddard testified Harrington was on probation for eight years after pleading guilty in May to manufacturing marijuana. An assessment led Goddard to believe that he was not a threat to others. On March 1 he was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of untaxed alcohol and served six months for violating his probation.
Cahoon, who was assisting Harrington on the trip to the DMV officer, witnessed the entire exchange. He said the exchange between Harrington and Woody was conversational to a point, but that “both sides became frustrated” during the discussion.
He said Harrington never threatened the DMV office or employees, but vented his frustration in an ill-advised way, for which Harrington apologized.
McKenzie told Harrington, “When one is on probation you need to go above and beyond to be careful with the way words are said in this day and time.”
After further cautions, McKenzie dismissed the warrant and Monday Harrington walked out of jail.