Skip to comments.2006 Investigation: Felons Hired As Police Officers (In Tennessee)
Posted on 03/10/2010 2:35:40 AM PST by The Magical Mischief Tour
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An I-team investigation has uncovered more than 100 cases of people with criminal records becoming police officers in Tennessee.
Some of these officers are even accused of committing new crimes once they are hired. So how are convicted criminals still getting badges, guns, and the power to arrest members of the public?
An audit found that the police chief and mayor of Burns, Tenn., hired a convicted felon as a police officer. The mayor soon stepped down and his whole department was almost decertified. "Was it a classic example of the good-old-boy network?" asked reporter Jeremy Finley. "I think so, said Brian Grisham, head of Police Officers Standard and Training Commission (POST).
And you might suspect the "good-old-boy network" might get a felon hired in one small town. But the I-Team found that convicted criminals have become cops in cities large and small, all over Middle Tennessee.
Our investigation found more than 100 people with criminal records became police officers in Tennessee over the past three years. 29 had DUI records, other convictions and charges ranged from assault to theft to illegal drug possession, even solicitation of prostitutes. Most disturbing was that four of the officers hired were felons
Officers like John Brannon was sentenced for aggravated assault and went on to work for three local police departments including Robertson County, Ridgetop, and Greenbrier. Carlton Owens is an officer who is a convicted drug felon who carried a badge in Burns, Tenn. Rodolfo Castro who's now a cop despite felony convictions out of California.
Officer Robert Schmidt was recently indicted in Memphis for illegal weapons possession.
All of them are felons who would normally be prohibited by state law from carrying any guns are carrying police-issued guns.
Even now, the state is investigating four police departments accused of improperly hiring criminals: Spring City, Piperton, Gallaway, and Centerville where a federal lawsuit claims the police chief knowingly hired a felon. "For someone to do something like this, it's unreal, said Jason Warden, who is suing a local police department.
Warden's lawsuit strikes at the heart of the concern about cops with criminal backgrounds. WSMV found cases of officers with records accused of committing new crimes after they got a badge.
The lawsuit claims the Centerville officer kidnapped Warden's wife after arresting her during a family fight over child support. "This man has no business wearing a gun or being a police officer," said Warden.
And then there is Dennis Goltz.
He has a record of misdemeanor offenses in Illinois. After being hired as a cop in Hickman County, he was charged with theft and later impersonating a police officer.
He said all his new charges were dismissed, but he was still stripped of his badge. "Some people will say, 'He's a crook,' " said Finley. They say they can say what they want. I'm willing to take a polygraph. I didn't do it. I've maintained my innocence the entire time," said Goltz.
Goltz is among the 13 police officers across cities and counties in Tennessee who have been decertified by the state because of their criminal records. So with officers stripped of badges, entire departments under investigation and pending lawsuits, why and how do people with these criminal records get hired in the first place?
The I-Team reviewed all the files of people with criminal records who asked the state to become police officers. WSMV also looked at officers lost their badges because of their previous crimes.
One common thread was prevalent... " The bottom line is that a lot of times these guys lie," said Finley. "They lie," said Grissom.
They lie by simply checking "no" in the criminal background box on the applications. But they get away with it when departments take the fingerprints but never do complete background checks.
That is what happened with the case of convicted drug felon Carlton Owens becoming an officer in Burns, according to state investigators. Another way some criminals become officers is that they get a judge to expunge their records so their criminal convictions no longer exist on the books anymore.
And there's still a third way people with records become police officers. They actually get the blessing of the state in the form of the POST Commission. Over the past three years, the I-Team found that the POST commission granted 110 waivers to people with criminal backgrounds wanting to be cops. Like in the case of one prospective officer who has an old misdemeanor assault charge.
The POST Commision gives, but it also takes away.
In the past three years alone, the commission has stripped more officers of badges than any time in the past 24 years combined. One of those badges was stripped from John Brannon. His felony assault charge didn't stop him from getting police jobs in Robertson County then in Ridgetop.
But a background check did stop him from keeping a third job when Greenbrier's police chief saw the felony assault conviction, and fired him. "Once a person has proven themselves to be a threat to the public, it has to be addressed," said Chief Richard Hatfield of the Greenbrier Police Department. Brannon said he only checked "no" criminal background because he thought his conviction was wiped away from his record. He said he is innocent although he is still considered a felon. "I can't find a department that will hire me on until I get this cleared up, and I can't get this cleared up until I find a department who will hire me on," said Brannon.
Brannon and Goltz are fighting to get their certification back.
But POST members say their tolerance is getting lower by the day. "To enforce the law, you've got to obey the law, and we've got to police ourselves first," said Grisham.
The head of the POST commission suggests that the number of cops with criminal records looks high now because his agency has done a better job of finding them. The director of POST also points out that 3,600 police officers were hired in that same three-year period with clean backgrounds.
Is Tennessee the worst state for this stuff? I’m highly surprised to see this much trouble in a supposedly red state.
Background checks flag 48 Tennessee State Troopers, Governor orders probe after questions from The Tennessean Newspaper. All have Criminal Records, some Troopers have Felony Convictions yet still serve, carry firearms and have powers of arrest!
By BRAD SCHRADE
The Tennessee Highway Patrol has 48 officers with charges on
their record ranging from suspended driver’s license issues to
felonies, according to a background check of the entire
department ordered by Gov. Phil Bredesen yesterday.
That’s about one of every 18 officers on the force of 855.
The governor ordered the screenings in response to questions from The Tennessean about
background checks on THP officers mentioned in a memo from the commander of the patrol.
“There is an issue for me in how the department operates,” Bredesen said in response to this
inquiry and others by the paper. “My reaction was, ‘I’m getting expletives tired of The
Tennessean doing our work for us. Let’s go do some work.’”
The newspaper inquired this week about an Oct. 12 memo from Col. Lynn Pitts, commander of
the patrol, telling officers that they would have to pass background checks to access a federal
criminal database. If officers have felonies on their records, it is their responsibility to get them
expunged, the memo said.
That inquiry closely followed a report by The Tennessean that two-thirds of officers promoted
since Bredesen took office gave money to his campaign or had relatives or patrons who did.
Bredesen said yesterday that he would ask an independent law enforcement consultant to review
practices at the THP, including the promotion issues.
He also ordered the Department of Personnel to review files for the remaining 807 troopers to
look for non-criminal issues.
“What I’d like to come out of this all with is that I can look everybody the Lord, to the
public, to the press, to my wife in the eye and say ‘I’ve done everything I know with the data
that’s available over there to identify any problems and take care of it,’ “ Bredesen said.
The 48 officers showed up in either a driver’s license records database or the National Crime
Information Center database, said Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for the TBI, which conducted
the checks at Bredesen’s behest.
Some of the troopers had been charged with multiple offenses, as many as three in some cases,
The THP, the TBI and the governor’s office declined yesterday to identify any troopers who had
been charged with any crimes, or, for the most part, to detail the offenses involved. THP officials
did identify two offenses, although they did not name the troopers. One was larceny; another was
One reason they cited for not disclosing specifics was that they do not know the outcomes of the
The NCIC information is confidential by law, and the outcome of some of the charges is not
specified in the database state officials must glean that information themselves from court
State Safety Commissioner Fred Phillips, whose agency oversees the THP, was told late
yesterday afternoon about the 48 troopers who had shown up in the TBI review, department
spokeswoman Melissa McDonald said. Phillips said he would “take proper action of what the
TBI finds and welcomes and supports the broadening probe” of his agency, she said.
Bredesen has also asked the TBI to work with a lawyer in the state Department of Safety to
review all Internal Affairs investigations of the department dating back years to determine if any
other cases require action.
“They are going to work backward to review those records to see if there are any other matters
that need to be reviewed by the TBI,” Bredesen said.
The idea behind expungement, the process that Pitts suggested in his memo, is that the crime is
no longer public. The purpose of the process is to help rehabilitate a first offender without
staining them for the rest of their life, said Nashville lawyer David Raybin. He helped author the
state’s expungement law.
However, the trooper’s underlying conduct the action that resulted in the charges could be
grounds for sanctioning that officer, said Raybin, who also represents the local chapter of the
Fraternal Order of Police.
The governor said yesterday that he wasn’t holding any individual in the department responsible
for problems, but that he wanted more information.
He said he had asked TBI Director Mark Gwyn to provide a report within a week about the 48
officers in question.
The TBI has broad exemptions from the state’s public-records laws, but Bredesen pledged that
when Gwyn issues a report, the governor will make it public.
“When I have that information, we will decide what is the appropriate action ranging from ‘sin no
more,’ ‘watch yourself,’ to termination conceivably,” the governor said.
Bredesen said “one of the more serious” issues would be if officers lied on their applications
regarding prior convictions. That would lead to immediate termination, he said.
“If they lied on the application, I don’t want to hear any more about it, you’re gone,” he said.
Bredesen’s order of the background checks came after the newspaper began asking questions
about the Pitts memo.
“If a felony conviction is found during a background check it will be your responsibility to
rectify these records by either expungement or other legal process,” Pitts said in the memo,
adding in bold, “It is imperative that you attend to this issue immediately.”
The checks are a new requirement as the patrol works to have all its officers cleared to use the
“Failure to provide the necessary documentation and/or meet the qualifications as stated shall
disqualify you from obtaining certification,” Pitts’ memo said. “It could also effect your position
with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.”
In an interview yesterday, the colonel said the memo was not asking officers with criminal
problems to try to hide them. He said it was simply a courtesy to officers.
“Not anywhere in here have they been told to do anything illegal, been told to hide something or
take something off ” Pitts said. “It does not say that, it has not said that If you have a felony
conviction and I find it out, you’re going on leave without pay immediately.”
However, the governor, when asked in an interview about the wording, said it was “not an
“Somebody read that paragraph to me it sort of read to me like ‘I don’t really care if you have
a felony conviction or not. Just take care of it,’ “ Bredesen said.
The Oct. 12 memo told officers that THP would be doing background checks; but as of yesterday
afternoon, only 200 had been done. Bredesen stepped in yesterday and had TBI do all 855 checks
in one day.
Raybin said he saw nothing sinister in Pitts’ memo. Because expungements follow probation
periods that can last several years, criminal defense lawyers sometimes forget to file the
necessary court papers to get their clients’ charges expunged, Raybin said.
Pitts’ memo could have been misconstrued because it’s not possible to expunge a conviction,
“I think he was probably focusing on officers who had those old post-trial diversions where their
lawyers had not expunged it,” Raybin said.
Pitts said the department performs background checks on officer candidates before they are
hired, but said there had been some instances where officers may have transferred into the
department from other state agencies without such checks by the THP, which is part of the
Department of Safety.
As of yesterday afternoon, the department was continuing to conduct its own background checks
separate from the TBI, according to Phillips. About 200 of those had been completed, and he
said two had flags that raised a concern.
One officer had a larceny charge show up in his background and another had an assault charge.
Phillips said he did not know the nature of the offenses or whether they resulted in convictions.
“If I find someone who has a criminal conviction, you’ll know about it because I’m going to fire
them,” Phillips said.
Since laws over the years have been greatly expanded as to what constitutes a felony (and no end in sight for this trend), these sort of ‘scandals’ will become more and more prevalent.
AlGore was a second generation senator from Tennessee. However, PC hiring practices and affirmative action have made this a nationwide problem. Until this down turn in the economy, finding anyone qualified who would work as a policeman was becoming impossible. Now there is no money to hire the qualified candidates. Tennessee is probably just a little more honest about their bad apples.
ain’t that the Pitts
Weve been blaming the one bad apple for decades now and the official bad apple count has far exceeded the acceptable bad apple to bushel basket ratio long years ago.
The argument no longer holds water when you begin to look at the sheer number and the magnitude of news stories in print and TV media today of misconduct and crimes committed by our police on a daily basis.
I wish it were not true, but as you can see, just from what I post here on FR that is not the case.
This anti-police jihad is getting into dripping faucet territory.
I find a figure of 800,000 policemen in the United States. You can run a similar exercise searching nationwide for bad seeds with most any profession that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. But what would be the point.
What would be tolerable for a construction worker isn’t necessarily tolerable for police....
Yes, by all means ignore the facts, ignore the news, ignore the issue. And just like the Democrats hope you will ignore them in DC. You end up with exactly what you deserve. An out of control Police State populated by people no better than the criminals they profess to police us from.
Its exactly how governments, elected, appointed, hired or otherwise get out of control. FOlks like you and all the other cop apologist who stick their head in the sand, ignore the obvious and pretend it doesn't exist.
Until one day it begins to feed upon you.
Insider hiring. You get your cousin Jimmy Joe who comes up and asks for a favor. You arrange via the town council or sheriff for the guy to get a job. He stays two years...then moves to another job, and no one asks any questions. You start to wonder about certain robberies around your community...and then realize that the only people who get out at night and have a chance to know what’s going on at 1AM...is the local cops. Why be surprised? Oh, and if you think it’s just Tenn....think again...Bama has the same issue.
We know what happens to cops in prison but I wonder what the prison protocol is for cops who were felons and did time before they were cops.
Every PD in Tn can run their applicants through NCIC for criminal history.
Yep, but some don't...
“This anti-police jihad is getting into dripping faucet territory.”
I disagree. If there’s a problem it needs to be fixed. Complaining about cop haters won’t fix anything. There are problems with cops being crooks, bullies, violating laws, regulations, etc.
When it’s a he said/she said story and the cop haters show up with their pitchforks, torches and lynching ropes based soley on a state controlled media newspaper story(whom they always deride in every other circumstance)then I agree with you.
Obviously. No excuse for that crap.
Probably a promotion to Warden...
Check the postings of this guy, at least since I have noticed over the past few days, nothing but rants about bad cops, he sits in his cell and types away, pissed that he apparently got nailed by the cops.
They are not required to possess firearms in direct violation of the law.
Music City ping
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