TBI reports on LPD won't support charge if police prosecuted

Monday, November 12, 2007

A state investigation will not support successful prosecution of Lewisburg Police after an officer apparently released a 19-year-old man when suspected of drinking beer, according to the district attorney.

City Councilwoman Quinn Brandon, a practicing attorney here, has said obstruction of justice could be alleged against a superior officer if a sergeant told a patrol officer to release the teenager found in Jones Park.

While District Attorney Chuck Crawford found insufficient evidence to take a case to trial -- whether or not the charge might or might not be obstruction of justice -- the DA said the TBI report raises "concerns" about city police and he planned to speak with city officials about them before publicly stating those concerns.

Councilwoman Brandon and at least one other county resident took their concerns to Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard several months ago as they became aware of the situation. Her concerns were the subject of questions she would have asked Doug Alexander when he was police chief in September. He declined to answer questions during a city council meeting and has since been reassigned as the school resource officer at Lewisburg Middle School.

However, Sgt. Jackie Robertson was suspended with pay in August pending receipt of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's report on its probe into the underage drinking case. City Manager Eddie Fuller has reported that Officer James "Pugs" Johnson was asked or directed by Robertson to release the teenager who was taken into custody at Jones Park.

Officers have discretion on whether to charge a suspect, according to a legal authority consulted by the Marshall County Tribune. That does not extend to a superior officer who is not on the scene to observe the situation, however, it has been unclear whether Robertson saw, or was close to the alleged underage drinking in the city park.

Such details may, or may not have been revealed by the TBI investigation that Crawford has reviewed. TBI reports are started on requests from district attorneys and their results are reported to those prosecutors. The reports are not public records, according to the bureau. As a result, it is up to the prosecutors to decide to summarize the findings and release a summary.

Crawford spoke of the report Wednesday afternoon at the Marshall County Courthouse after he presented a guilty plea agreement in a murder case to Judge Robert Crigler. His office had been primarily focused on the Ross murder case for weeks.

District attorneys are the highest elected law enforcement officers in their districts and Wednesday afternoon Crawford declined to release details of the report without first sharing them with city officials. It was subsequently revealed Wednesday that the prosecutor's office had spoken with Interim Police Chief David Ray about the TBI report and scheduled a consultation for today with city officials.

"The TBI has concluded its investigation and submitted its final report to the Office of the District Attorney General," Crawford said.

"I have reviewed the TBI report and it raises several issues of concern," the state prosecutor said. "However, there is nothing in the report that I believe could lead to a successful criminal prosecution.

"In the next few days," Crawford said Wednesday afternoon, "I will be contacting officials for the City of Lewisburg to discuss with them the concerns that I have about issues that are raised by the report.

"The DA's office requested the assignment of a special agent from another district," Crawford said. "That was because our local TBI agent has to work with Lewisburg Police officers and I wouldn't want to do anything to compromise his relationship with local law enforcement."

TBI procedures and a personnel development at the bureau apparently delayed completion of the formal report to Crawford.

"There had been a meeting scheduled with the DA, the investigating agent and his immediate supervisor on this case," Crawford said. "The untimely death of the supervisor prevented the meeting from occurring."

As soon as another supervisor was hired and in place to succeed Brooks Wilkins, a meeting was rescheduled and the final report was submitted, the prosecutor said. That was late last month.

"We're going to meet with him [Crawford] some time Friday and listen to his concerns," City Manager Eddie Fuller said on Wednesday evening.

"I think after we listen to his concerns, we'll make a decision" on what to do about the sergeant who has been suspended with pay for several months.

Fuller anticipated a full review of the findings but on Wednesday night, he did not know more than what Interim Police Chief David Ray had told him, the city manager said.