The prosecutor in
has announced that state troopers who receive gifts in exchange for fixing
tickets are not necessarily breaking any laws, following a requested inquiry by
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.
The question was raised after the Tennessee
Bureau of Investigation found that Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Jerry Dean
Watson had “fixed” a speeding ticket for an employee of a
meat packing plant. According to The Tennessean, the company, Lay Packing
Co., had given gifts of ham to THP officers for a long period of time.
Watson pleaded guilty in 2001 to illegally
forging the signature of a judge to have the ticket eliminated. However,
Bredesen consulted the
determine if – in a hypothetical situation where forgery was not involved – having a ticket dismissed for someone who had given a gift would be considered
an illegal activity.
In a written statement the prosecutor,
District Attorney General Randy Nichols, said that although Lay Packing Co. had
given gifts to troopers, it did not create a situation where asking for a
ticket dismissal would be a criminal offense.
“This may well have created an atmosphere
where Lay Packing Co. employees felt comfortable in asking for ‘favors’;
however, that would not be in and of itself a criminal offense,” Nichols said
in his statement. “It is not a criminal offense if a trooper requests a
prosecutor or a judge to dismiss the case as a ‘favor’ unless that request is
in return for some direct benefit to the trooper.”
The ticket-fixing story made national
headlines after The Tennessean revealed that Watson – a former “trooper of the year” – resigned from the THP
in November 2001 after being convicted for the incident, only to be hired back
in January 2003.
State officials have not taken The
Tennessean’s investigations lightly. After Watson’s rehiring
was uncovered, Bredesen ordered background checks on all 800-plus Highway
The ruling is the latest in a string of
state and local police forces, which have been repeatedly uncovered by The Tennessean. The newspaper has
uncovered more than a dozen incidents, with allegations ranging from sexual
misconduct to high-level cronyism throughout the state’s police force and
various levels of government.