Another investigation by a
newspaper has discovered a
cover-up involving the state’s deputy governor, a speeding ticket and a
Tennessee Highway Patrol officer.
On Tuesday, Jan. 10, The Tennessean reported that THP
higher-ups gave a fake punishment to Lt. Ronnie Shirley, who was supposedly
reassigned after he fixed a speeding ticket received by Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley
in February 2004.
According to the Tennessean, notes taken by another officer show that the
patrol did not actually reassign Shirley, but instead changed enough paperwork
to make it appear that they had, so that the media would be “satisfied thinking
we did something to him.”
News of the cover-up has sent more tremors
through the halls of the
governor’s office. On the same day the news story broke, Gov. Phil Bredesen announced he would be introducing legislation to
place THP back under the oversight of the Peace Officers Standards and Training
Council as soon as the state’s lawmakers reconvene.
The patrol was under the council’s watch
Cooley came under fire in early December
2005, when Lynn Pitts, the former head of the patrol, resigned over allegations
of ethics violations. After stepping down, Pitts fingered Cooley – the second
in command in the state’s government – saying he was involved in cronyism and
was often consulted when it came time for high-level promotions within THP.
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.
Additionally, The Tennessean 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.
State officials have not taken The Tennessean’s investigations lightly. After Watson’s rehiring was uncovered,
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen ordered background
checks on all 800-plus Highway Patrol officers.
Trooper Ronald D. Seay
was placed on administrative leave, Dec. 5, 2005, after an Internal Affairs
investigation discovered that his ex-wife’s embroidery company was doing work
for the Department of Homeland Security, a violation of patrol policy.
The day before Seay’s
suspension, troopers Vincent Turocy and Joseph Agee
II were placed on leave, for their management of statetrooperstore.com, which
supplied the patrol with merchandise, which also violates ethics policies,
according to The Tennessean.
In early January, The Tennessean uncovered possible breaches of conduct in the
On Tuesday, Jan. 3, the newspaper reported
that an unnamed patrol officer was being examined for having “inappropriate
relations” with female prison inmates who performed custodial duties in the
office. Officers also allegedly allowed the inmates to access private
information on the patrol’s computers.
Last week, the patrol’s Internal Affairs
department interviewed patrol officers as a follow-up to an anonymous tip about
the unethical behavior, according to The
“The only specific thing (the anonymous tip)
does allege is that it is a supervisor, that there was possibly some
inappropriate activity taking place with female inmates and perhaps female
inmates had access to too much information,” Internal Affairs Capt. Dereck Stewart told the newspaper.
The investigation is not the first to find
possible sexual wrongdoing in the patrol. On Thursday, Dec. 22, The Tennessean reported
that Sgt. Gregory R. Badacour – who in August 2004
was arrested for filming people having sex at a local lookout point – was given
a one-day suspension for his actions, and is still working as a patrol officer
at the state capitol.
According to The Tennessean,Badacour pleaded guilty to filming one couple and was
placed on probation, while his police file says he
filmed at least nine other couples. He also admitted to clicking on a child
pornography Web site link on a computer.
However, his record with THP only mentions
the one guilty plea, despite being informed by the local police of the other
incidents, The Tennessean reported.
does have a criminal record, he’s certainly not the only one in THP.
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. The paper also found that two-thirds
of all officers in the patrol had made some sort of campaign contribution, and
about half of those were promoted over troopers with better test scores.