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LaFollette man arrested on 82-count rape, child pornography indictment

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By Beth Braden

LaFollette Police arrested 52-year-old Lonnie Ellison on July 13 after an eight-month investigation involving the district attorney’s office and the Internet Crimes Against Children (I.C.A.C.) office in Knoxville. The arrest came after Lt. Monty Miller received a sealed indictment from the Campbell County Grand Jury on July 11.

“We’ve been actively investigating this non-stop since November of last year,” Miller said.

Last fall, the contents of a storage unit were auctioned after Ellison allegedly failed to pay the rent on the locker. The buyer began going through the items and reportedly found what was believed to be child pornography. That’s when LaFollette Police Chief Jimmy Jeffries and officer Josh Hill were notified of the contents.

“You can arrest anybody in 15 minutes, but getting a successful prosecution in court is more important than making a fast arrest,” Jeffries said.

Inside the locker, kitchen-sized garbage bags and plastic bins contained photos of young, nude preadolescent girls, according to Miller.  Allegedly, video was also found.

“The totes were full of homemade movies he made,” Miller said. The video had been allegedly downloaded from the Internet for Ellison’s personal use.

Around that same time, the Department of Children’s Services removed two children, a boy and a girl, from Ellison’s home at 309 N. Cumberland Ave. The children, who belonged to Ellison’s girlfriend, were removed for reasons not related to the LPD investigation, Miller said.

In February, investigators interviewed Ellison about the contents of the storage locker.

“He denied some things and admitted to some of the books, and movies,” Miller said.

As the investigation progressed, police obtained enough evidence for a search warrant.

On June 22, Jeffries, Miller, Josh Hill, David Muse, Mike Owens, Steve Wallen, and Matt Sandefur executed the warrant.

“We found hundreds of [photographs of] preadolescent children nude in a crawlspace,” Miller said. He estimates that 98 percent of the photographs were of girls.

Investigators allegedly found 12 computers and a number of jump drives, hard drives and digital cameras in the home. At least one of the computers was stored in the mud and brick basement of the home.

The computer equipment and cameras were sent to the I.C.A.C. in Knoxville for analysis.

“They recovered thousand and thousands and thousands of images,” Miller said. I.C.A.C. was reportedly able to recover 15,000 images of child pornography. They estimate Ellison may have been in possession of more than 200,000 images.

When I.C.A.C. begins an investigation, its investigators have access to a database that attempts to put names with the faces of the exploited children. In what Miller describes as a “very rare” occurrence, police were able to identify one of Ellison’s victims as a local child. The girl was five years old at the time of the alleged contact with Ellison.

It was late morning when officers rolled up to Ellison’s Massachusetts Avenue home last Friday. Ellison, who shared the home with his mother, girlfriend and 19-year-old-daughter, was taken into custody without incident. He allegedly confessed to some of the crimes and said, “he would never hurt anybody,” according to Miller. Ellison also reportedly said he “meant to throw that stuff away and never did.”

Ellison is being held in the Campbell County Jail on a $150,000 bond. He is charged with rape of a child, aggravated sexual battery and 19 counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. Those charges are in regards to the five-year-old girl. He is charged with an additional 59 counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor because of the items found in the storage locker, and sexual exploitation of a minor due to the photos found in his home.

“We’re just glad to get him off the street ‘cause there’s no doubt this guy would have continued,” Miller said.

“We’re really glad to have made an arrest in this case and get a person like Lonnie Ellison out of society,” said Jeffries.

A portion of Ellison’s crimes, such as rape of a child, are not offenses where he could receive probation.

He is currently on probation for forgery, Miller said.