The Tennessee Senate is considering
legislation to limit political contributions from Tennessee Highway Patrol
officers, after a voracious series of investigations by a newspaper thrust the
patrol into the limelight.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Senate
Transportation Committee announced that it had discussed such legislation, and
also said it had considered placing THP back under the ethical monitoring of
the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission – which it was
removed from in 1983 – to investigate procedures for promotions within the
“What it’s come down to is
politics,” committee member Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, told The Tennessean in reference to the patrol’s
The legislation in question comes just weeks
after Col. Lynn Pitts, a 31-year veteran and head of the patrol since
2003, resigned from his position Dec. 6, after a story in The Tennessean found that 48 of the state’s more than 800
troopers had some type of charges – and in some cases convictions – on their
criminal record, including felonies and suspended driver’s licenses.
“As a result of recent events in the Tennessee Department of Safety, I
have requested and received the resignation of Tennessee Highway Patrol Col.
Lynn Pitts,” Fred Phillips, safety commissioner for the state, said in a press
“This action comes as a result of Col. Pitt’s’ attempt to purchase a
boat through the surplus division of the Department of General Services, which
is in violation of TCA 12-2-208.”
Additionally, The Tennessean also uncovered the story of Jerry Dean Watson – a former “trooper of the year” – who’d been convicted of a felony and
resigned from the THP in November 2001, only to be hired back in January 2003.
His crime?Forging a judge’s
signature to get out of a speeding ticket.
Tennessean’s probe of
the patrol has been an ongoing topic of interest for the newspaper. Less than
six months ago, an investigative series uncovered corruption in THP’s “honorary
captain” program, which eventually led to its government-ordered shutdown.
State officials have not taken The Tennessean’s investigations lightly.
After Watson’s rehiring was uncovered earlier this week, Tennessee Gov. Phil
Bredesen ordered background checks on all 800-plus THP officers.