Officer ends career after 27 years on police force

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Lewisburg Police officer decided to retire last week after nearly 27 years with the force and his decision was made amid circumstances that reflect the higher standard of conduct for people in law enforcement, almost regardless of human frailties.

Public records state that Officer Steve "Woody" Woodward admitted he received at least one Lortab pain pill about four years ago from Roy Rowe Jr., 51, of New Columbia Highway, one of 25 people arrested in a drug sweep on March 7, 2008. Rowe is serving 365 days in jail after pleading guilty to drug sale charges.

Woodward suffered a back injury from a car crash when he was in high school and two vertebrae were fused, but that put stress on another bone, causing pain, Woodward explained in an interview Friday evening. "Maybe this will help you sleep," Woodward said, paraphrasing Rowe during an Ellington Parkway restaurant parking lot conversation when the veteran officer accepted and later used a Lortab.

In a jail house interview on Monday, Rowe contradicts Woodward's version, saying he sold the pill in a church parking lot along Fayetteville Highway and there were other times, but it ended when he was arrested in the drug sweep. Rowe repeated these points: It's not fair that he's in jail when others go free; He's got to tell the truth, and; He's a Christian.

Woodward disputes Rowe's contention that the he bought pills from an old friend who's now a convict, adding that with the city's health insurance coverage "I could pay a $10 co-pay and get them."

The two men have known each other "since the 1970s when everybody had a hot rod," Woodward said. "He's always been a friend, almost like we'd gone to high school together."

And it was cars that drew the two closer a few years ago. Specifically, it was a grey 2006 Monte Carlo program car with about 30,000 miles. Rowe said he needed it to work. Later, his wife was jailed on a burglary charge, leaving him to raise their toddler.

Both men confirm the general story told by others. Woodward co-signed the car loan for approximately $12,500.

Then he got stuck with the note.

Woodward provided specifics. Rowe gave a girl a ride to Shelbyville. They stopped to get a drink. He went in. The drug task force rolled up, arrested her, came back to town with the two, searched his house and seized the car.

Woodward co-signed the note because Rowe's wife was pregnant and they needed help, the retiring officer said. Rowe had told Woodward that during an MRI procedure he had a heart attack, but was revived, and wasn't healthy enough to drive a car in the 110-degree heat two summers ago unless the car had good air conditioning.

Then the car was seized.

Because Rowe wasn't making payments anymore, Woodward went to the Highway Patrol post in Lawrenceburg where seizure hearings are held, Woodward said, quoting Rowe as saying they should let it be repossessed, regardless of the consequences to credit ratings. Woodward disagreed, got the car, now lets a relative drive it, and is making monthly payments.

After Woodward got the Monte Carlo, the retiring officer said, Rowe showed up saying he wanted the car back. Woodward refused. The dispute, according to Woodward, prompted Rowe to make accusations that Rowe and the state can't substantiate.

"'You need to do your sympathy things with your brain and not your heart,'" Woodward says, quoting his wife.

While he's been "in a stew over this," his home-life was apparently improving, "Then, out of the blue, Monday a week ago (April 6) I get a call to see the chief."

Police Chief Chuck Forbis had spoken with Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard who called in a special agent from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The agent interviewed Woodward, the retiring officer reported Friday.

The TBI agent accused Woodward of "all these drug deals I was supposed to have done," the retiring officer said, denying the magnitude of the allegation.

A TBI agent from out of the area was called in by the District Attorney's Office to check out information revealed during an interview with Rowe who was questioned by Jim Grimes of the state Probation and Parole Office. Grimes was preparing a pre-sentence report for Judge Robert Crigler before he would decide on a jail term for Rowe. It's a routine practice in many cases.

The relevant part of the interview transcript is as follows.

Q: How many times did you sell drugs?

A: I can't remember how many times - probably about 12 or 13 times.

Q: Who to?

A: I cannot say the name. He is not involved. I would tell you Paul Woodard (Woodward). He is a city cop. He bought them. The only reason I sold them was he is a cop. - 50 for $700.

Q: How many times did you sell drugs to Woodard (Woodward)?

A: Probably 10-12 times.

"It's plain old back stabbing," Woodward said of Rowe's statements to the state officer.

"Roy Rowe sold me out over the car," Woodward said. "I took one pill from him...

"Before this car thing, I had never known him to have been arrested," the retiring officer said about Rowe.

So, the car Woodward helped Rowe buy was the genesis of friction between the friends, and during the Monday interview and comments from other officials, it appears that Woodward's practice of providing a complete explanation, or truthfully stating his opinion has been somewhat detrimental to his relationships with superiors and some co-workers. Woodward is, however, forthcoming and has a reputation of being helpful when others might not go the distance that he would.

"For the last 27 years, I've worked for the city and ... I'm getting nailed ... I told the truth," Woodward said. "It's rough to walk away from something you've done for 33 years."

Woodward worked for the Sheriff's Department before he became a city police officer.

Grimes interviewed Rowe on Feb. 18, according to the court record and on April 14, Chief Forbis sent City Manager Eddie Fuller a memo about Woodward.

"The exact time frame of this alleged transaction is unclear, however Rowe states that he sold drugs for about six to eight months leading up to his arrest in January 2008," Forbis wrote to Fuller. Barnard told Forbis about Grimes' interview with Rowe, and Forbis requested a TBI interview of Woodward. It was conducted April 6.

Monday, Rowe denied he made his statements to get a better deal on his sentence, and that he doesn't think he got a better sentence.

Through his pre-sentence report Rowe asks the judge, "Please let me go home. It will never happen again. Please be lenient and give me probation and let me go home so I stay under my doctor's care for Parkinson" (Parkinson's) disease.

District Attorney Chuck Crawford said he doesn't think Rowe got leniency.

"Perhaps Mr. Rowe thought he could lessen his punishment if he could implicate someone else, perhaps, but you do have two different stories," Crawford said. "The judge imposed the sentence and he followed the guidelines."

Rowe also used Lortabs, the inmate said. He had a "back doctor in Nashville," and he went to a doctor in Alabama for the pills. He also got pills from other people who are not medical professionals, Rowe said.

Forbis told Fuller: "Woodward provided a signed statement in which he states that he recalls on one occasion receiving one or two Lortabs from Rowe... This event, according to Officer Woodward, occurred approximately four years ago while off duty.

"Woodward also stated that he may have received drugs from Rowe on other occasions, however, this event is the only one that he can specifically remember."

Forbis notes that receiving the Lortab was a crime.

"Police officers must maintain a level of integrity and honesty that is above reproaching, in order to have any credibility in the community and the criminal justice process," Forbis said. Woodward's actions destroyed his credibility and discredited the department.

However, even as Forbis recommended dismissal, he also said "During my time here, I found Woody to be a very good officer. I think there was one time that I had to administer discipline for a minor thing, but he seemed to be a dedicated officer.

"It's really not that difficult for somebody to get addicted, especially with back injuries."

While not accusing Woodward of addiction, he noted that sometimes treatment leads to problems. Nevertheless, "When someone resorts to illegal means - other than prescription - we have to take a different stance on it.

"We have to police ourselves and hold ourselves to a higher standard," Forbis said. "It's regrettable when this sort of thing happens in a department whether it's civilian employees or an officer.

"He still has his certification," Forbis said Friday.

Forbis also said that as a general rule, he prefers "incremental discipline."

Woodward's personnel file shows his performance evaluations as meeting or exceeding standards.

Fuller said Woodward has been with the city since August of 1982.

"There are no criminal charges," the city manager said. "It's my understanding that the TBI decided not to pursue it."

Crawford said, "There was no recommendation" from the TBI agent.

"He told me what he found out," the district attorney said. "I don't anticipate any charges being prosecuted, at this time, unless there's more information that would come to light."

The statute of limitations "would certainly come into play," Crawford said, noting that it is a misdemeanor to accept a prescription drug from someone other than a physician or a pharmacist without a prescription.

Fuller said, "In the past, people have said things and told some untruths and recently, I think some have said such things and I think Woody just decided to retire...

"He may have made a bad decision a time or two," the city manager said. But he would help anybody and apparently helped somebody and it came back to haunt him.

"Woody's too good a guy," Fuller said. "That's the problem."

Police Detective Sgt. Jimmy Oliver said he hadn't heard about Woodward's retirement when he was asked about his fellow officer; "He was my supervisor (years ago before Woodward preferred to step back down to being a patrol officer). He was a policeman's policeman. If someone came in and complained about a police officer, he would look into it and not just be on the side of the complainant. Officers felt comfortable with him."

Woodward looked back on his 26-plus years with the department with some uncertainty about returning to the job, noting, "You have to walk in somebody else's shoes to get a feeling for what it is like."

He regrets "taking the job home" with him, and claims no more ambition other than to be a good police officer "out there in the public, talking to people and being at the stores.

"I've loved it for 33 years," he said during a 90-minute interview.