12/23/2005

Four Tenn. officers fired after background probes

Andy Sher, Nashville Bureau

Copyright 2005 Chattanooga Publishing Company

NASHVILLE -- Acting Department of Safety Commissioner Gerald Nicely announced Thursday that he intends to fire three state troopers and one Capitol Hill policeman who were recommended for termination after a probe into employee backgrounds.

"This is certainly not a happy day for the Department of Safety or for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, but I do believe these actions constitute the first step in preparing the department for the future," Mr. Nicely said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen brought in Mr. Nicely to restore public trust in an agency facing allegations of political favoritism and mismanagement.

The employees are covered under civil service and have rights to due process before being terminated, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Assistant Director Edward B. Jones said.

Mr. Jones conducted the background checks of troopers and other personnel at Gov. Bredesen's direction.

The Tennessean reported that 41 troopers and dispatchers had criminal arrest records or records of serious driving violations.

None was convicted of a felony, Mr. Jones' report stated.

Those marked for termination on Thursday were involved in incidents that occurred after joining the Department of Safety, officials said.

The administration had been moving to fire one of them: Trooper Tony Schuer, officials said.

According to TBI officials, Trooper Schuer was charged Nov. 14 with driving under the influence in Rhea County and refusing a breathalyzer test while in possession of his service weapon.

Also recommended for dismissal were:

* Trooper Angelinette Crawford, who in September 2004 was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

* Capitol Hill Police Sgt. Gregory Badacour, who pleaded guilty to a September 2004 incident in which he was engaged in unlawful photography while in uniform. He received a one-day suspension last year. Capitol Hill police are under the Department of Safety.

* Trooper Russell Cope was not one of the 41 originally examined. Mr. Nicely said he was shown to have a lengthy record, including a recent traffic stop on Interstate 65 south of Nashville in which he was cited for conduct unbecoming an officer.

Mr. Nicely said he recently became aware of the case, which occurred in 2000. He didn't provide details. A examination of Trooper Cope's 750-page file shows then-Safety Commissioner Fred Phillips gave the trooper a 20-day suspension without pay. It noted he had had 12 written complaints against him since his assignment to the Cookeville, Tenn., District in 2000.

In a filing with the Tennessee Civil Service Commission last year, Trooper Cope's attorney charged his client "was being punished and retaliated against based on partisan party politics."

In an affidavit, Trooper Cope stated he was the victim of a "conspiracy" of Democratic elected officials and Democratic political appointees in Cumberland County.

Mr. Jones of the TBI said 34 of the 41 Department of Safety employees were charged before their employment, and seven were charged after being hired. Of the 34, nine had traffic-related offenses in which their driver's license was suspended; 25 had criminal charges; 13 were convicted of misdemeanors; and 12 were found not guilty, were not prosecuted or had their charges dismissed.

Mr. Jones said he is recommending that in the future an increased emphasis be put on the review of criminal charges and driving violations.

Mr. Nicely said if more information comes forth, action could be taken against those not being fired at this time. He said he plans to update the department's procedures and policies.

The hire dates of the individuals ranged from March 1974 to October 2005, records show.

E-mail Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com 
 
December 23, 2005

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