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VOL. 130 | NO. 208 | Monday, October 26, 2015

Nashville and Knoxville Police Oppose TBI Investigations

By Bill Dries

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The police chiefs of Nashville and Knoxville have come out against a proposed state law that would automatically send fatal police-encounter investigations to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The stands put the brass of those two departments at odds with Memphis Police Department director Toney Armstrong and Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham.

Armstrong, Oldham and Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich announced last week that they have entered into an agreement with the TBI to investigate all fatal police shootings as well as deaths of suspects and detainees while in custody.

All three have said the agreement will ensure greater transparency, despite a Tennessee law that specifically prohibits the TBI from releasing to the public any investigation details without a court order.


Knoxville Police chief David Rausch, however, told the state Senate Judiciary Committee in Nashville last week that he has concerns about a handoff to the TBI.

“I think there is some value to a multi-disciplinary team,” Rausch said at the Monday, Oct. 19, hearing on Capitol Hill. “Another concern we have is just waiting for the TBI to get to the scene and leaving a deceased person on the ground until they arrive.”

Under terms of the Memphis and Shelby County pact, local law enforcement would block off a crime scene, preserve evidence and wait for a TBI team to arrive and begin the investigation.

The TBI investigation would not include a conclusion. That would be up to Weirich’s office, which would review the TBI’s files.

“The essence of speed in these cases is important,” Rausch added. “Having to wait for resources to get there causes a lot of issues.”

On the broader question of trust, Rausch said Tennessee law enforcement has “limited issues” when it comes to the use of deadly force by police officers.

“The agencies that are equipped to properly manage these investigations and are trusted in their communities to conduct thorough, fair and transparent investigations should not be penalized because of the current narrative of distrust in some areas of our country,” he told the panel, which was chaired by state Rep. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, who is a cosponsor of the proposed change along with state Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis.

Rausch, who also is head of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, questioned whether the TBI has the training necessary to investigate police shootings.

“I have no problems with the TBI. They are wonderful peers,” he said. “We have some philosophical differences in terms of these investigations. … There are some sciences in this realm that their investigations don’t take into account.”

Those sciences, Rausch said, take into account that the use of deadly force by a police officer requires specific procedures on “how to investigate and review these cases because they are not normal.”

Meanwhile, Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron told Nashville’s The Tennessean newspaper last week, “This is not an investigative area that we want to give up.”

Aaron cited the state law barring the release of any information on TBI investigations as well as the time it might take for the TBI to get to the scene of a shooting.

“It’s vital that you put as much information out there as quickly as you can,” he said.

Memphis Mayor-elect Jim Strickland has said he favors the legislation as well as a change in state law that would open TBI files to the public in such cases.

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