Tennessee deputy governor fingered in THP cronyism scandal

| 12/19/2005

The deputy governor of Tennessee is in hot water for his involvement in the state highway patrol’s hiring process, after a continuing investigation by an area newspaper uncovered alleged cronyisms.

According to a report released in the Sunday, Dec. 18, edition of The Tennessean, Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley – the second in command in the state’s government – was often consulted when it came time for high-level promotions within THP.

Cooley’s fingering is the latest in an ongoing investigation of THP by the Tennessean. Previously, the newspaper found that two-thirds of all officers in the patrol had made some sort of campaign contribution; about half of who were promoted over troopers with better test scores.

The revelation came from Lynn Pitts, former head of the patrol, who resigned last week after The Tennessean found that 48 of the state’s more than 800 troopers had some type of charges on their criminal record, including felony charges and suspended driver’s licenses

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 Highway Patrol 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.

The 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 Highway Patrol officers.