Tennessee Highway Patrol investigation becomes partisan issue

| 2/10/2006

It was inevitable that it would happen, and now, it looks like it has – the ongoing controversy surrounding the Tennessee Highway Patrol has turned political.

According to The Tennessean, two Democratic state senators have asked former THP Col. Jerry Scott to be subpoenaed to testify before a senate committee about ethical violations made by former Gov. Don Sundquist – a Republican – during his time in office.

The request comes after months of investigations by THP into possible ethical improprieties, including campaign donations, between the state’s Democratically controlled Governor’s office and its police force.

“If we are going to fix this, we have to go back in time and not just focus on this administration,” Sen. Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville, told The Tennessean. “Let’s look and see what the problems were, how long they’ve been going on, and let’s really take a look at how deep this goes.”

Although partisan politics have been blamed throughout the debacle, they didn’t crack through the surface until Monday, Feb. 6, when Charles B. Farmer, a former lieutenant within the patrol, filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Safety, claiming he was fired from his job in 2004 after it was discovered that members of his family supported Republican candidates in a 2002 statewide election, The Tennessean reported.

Farmer claims he had never done poorly on evaluations until 2003, when a superior officer – the same man he claims chastised him for not supporting a Democratic candidate a year earlier – gave him bad marks. According to The Tennessean, after the poor test score, Farmer was moved to a midnight shift before being terminated.

Testimonials of wrongdoing within the patrol are beginning to creep out of the woodwork. Earlier this week, THP Trooper Archie Story claimed he was being fired from the patrol, after he complained to his supervisors about being forced to fix a ticket and change an accident report, according to The Associated Press

Further details on who the supposedly fixed ticket pertains to have not emerged. However, Story – a trooper with the patrol for nine years – said he filed the complaint in January, and was notified of his termination five days later, according to The AP.

THP officials have denied the claim, saying that Story’s firing has nothing to do with his complaint, but rather with two accident scenes he arrived to late, The AP reported.

Farmer’s lawsuit is the latest in a string of scandals to emerge from Tennessee’s state and local police forces, most of which stem from an ongoing investigation 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.