Cronyism and corruption run rampant in the Tennessee Highway Patrol, so much so that Governor Phil Bredesen ordered the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation. The governor vowed Thursday that “it’s going to end on my watch” and will convene a special tribunal to handle the expected increase in workload.
The initial investigation involved doing criminal background checks on everyone in the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Of those, 41 officers and other workers were found to have been accused of crimes before being hired by the state, such as aggravated assault, grand larceny, drunk driving, and child abuse, according to the TBI’s initial report, portions of which (PDF) were also released by the governor’s office Thursday.
In addition, 14 other officers were identified whose criminal records had been legally expunged.
The list includes Trooper Gregory Badacour, who was charged last year in Nashville with filming a couple engaging in sexual activity. He was found guilty and is on probation until January, according to documents released by the governor’s office.
It also includes Trooper Ronald W. Hughes, who made an “abrupt” U-turn at a police roadblock in Marion County in 2001, according to the governor’s office. He was arrested and charged with offenses, including evading arrest and drunken driving, that were later dropped; he retired 10 days ago, on the same day the governor ordered TBI background checks of the entire THP.
The governor suggested that some of the troopers flagged in the TBI review could lose their jobs. He said he planned to convene a three-member panel that will review those with troubled pasts and would recommend to the safety commissioner that he “take actions in regard to these people.” — The Tennessean
Asked why the THP was not involved in the investigation, Gov. Bredesen said, “This is being done outside the department. I asked the TBI to come in as my right arm to investigate this. I asked the Department of Personnel to come in and investigate it. And I’m continuing to take, as you can tell from the actions we’re proposing, an outside view of this thing, . . . I think there is clearly a lack of confidence in the internal processes of the Safety Department.”
Part of the TBI’s review will include combing through THP internal affairs files and personnel files of all officers to determine problems that may not show up in criminal history checks. Bredesen said the state Personnel Department had reviewed 937 personnel files that make reference to the existence of 236 internal affairs investigations. Of those, 43 cases definitely will need further review, Bredesen said.
Other problems Bredesen listed that have emerged in the review of the department include:
- Evidence that some officers may have been driving state vehicles without valid driver’s licenses.
- A pattern of officers being suspended or forced to quit for misbehavior or illegal activity and then being rehired. The governor said he was “troubled by this pattern of (forced resignations) followed by rehirings — that something gets going and the person is suspended, and then two or three years later, is rehired in the process.”
- The possibility that officers may have been illegally purchasing confiscated property from the state. [THP commander Lynn] Pitts, after making a purchase of confiscated property, was forced to resign on Tuesday.
- One example of cronyism that the governor detailed was a case in which a THP officer, whom he did not identify, “was recommended against by the research” and by the THP’s plainclothes detective unit, but in which the man “was hired anyway.” The governor didn’t mention a name, but a memo distributed by his office last night identified a Trooper Leo Green as having been rehired by the THP after retiring following a DUI charge. He was rehired even though two THP supervisors recommended against it.
- The Safety Department has been keeping personnel records scattered throughout its offices, in a way that may have hidden from public view documents about the officers’ wrongdoing. Bredesen said the department may have been violating the state’s public records laws by not providing full disclosure of these personnel records. That will be fixed, he said.
“The recommendations that are made, and the actions that are taken, will be completely public,” he said. — Ibid.
Wow, the things that happen in my hometown. Getting an outside agency to do the investigation was a smart move. Something might actually be done about this rampant corruption.