Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday directed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to let them view files of the agency’s probe into allegations involving 10th District Attorney Steve Bebb of Cleveland, reports Andy Sher. Seven members, including Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted in favor of the resolution. Two members, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, abstained.
A similar effort in the House stalled at least temporarily after Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, blocked approval of nine bills and resolutions on various matters, only one of which involved Bebb, by the three-member Delayed Bills Committee. Approval requires all three members.
House GOP leaders say they intend to put that back on track today.
Reached by telephone Tuesday night, Bebb said, “I really don’t want to make any comment right now.”
The effort to obtain the TBI’s investigation of Bebb comes after Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on March 25 released his long-awaited report on Bebb and alleged misconduct in the 10th Judicial District, which includes Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties.
Relying on the TBI investigation, Cooper criticized Bebb’s office for poor judgment, mismanagement and deficient record keeping. But Cooper said he found no prosecutable evidence against Bebb on allegations of prosecutorial and financial misconduct, speaking untruthfully under oath and other offenses.
Bell and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, had called on Cooper to investigate following questions raised about Bebb last year in a Times Free Press series.
“This is not an issue I take up lightly,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, told colleagues late Tuesday afternoon. “It is not an issue that is meant to reveal information that is confidential. But it is a serious issue and it’s important for the Judiciary Committee to exercise its oversight ability.”
In an echo of state Senate action Wednesday, a House resolution has been filed saying that body intends to ask for the state investigative file into 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb’s office, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, filed HR 60, which states the intent of the House Criminal Justice Committee to review results of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s four-month investigation. The Senate passed a similar resolution Wednesday.
The lawmakers’ action this week follows the release last week of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s long-awaited report on the TBI investigation he commissioned in August.
The TBI and comptroller’s office probed allegations raised in a Chattanooga Times Free Press series and elsewhere of financial and prosecutorial misconduct in Bebb’s office, among other issues. Cooper’s report found that Bebb used poor judgment and mismanaged the office but stated that there were no prosecutable criminal charges against him.
Shipley, who sits on the House Criminal Justice Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that the General Assembly has oversight authority over district attorneys general.
“Therefore we have responsibility to make a fully informed decision and determine if further action by this body is warranted,” Shipley said.
The chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee is Cleveland Republican Eric Watson.
In a statement through Shipley’s office Thursday, Watson recused himself from the resolution and review.
“Rep. Watson is part of the law enforcement community in the affected judicial district. He has therefore removed himself from the process,” according to the statement.
House lawmakers didn’t vote on the resolution Thursday. It could come up next week.
The state attorney general has found no prosecutable criminal acts by 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb, reports the Chattanooga TFP. A report by Attorney General Robert Cooper criticizes Bebb’s office for poor judgment, mismanagement and deficient record keeping but finds no prosecutable evidence against him on allegations of official misconduct, theft, bribery, extortion and other offenses.
Prosecutable evidence against employees in Bebb’s office or current or former officers of the district’s drug task force would be handled by someone other than the attorney general’s office, Cooper’s report states.
The Times Free Press obtained a copy of the report late Monday afternoon.
Contacted by phone Monday evening, Bebb said he had not yet read it and would reserve comment for now.
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who called for the attorney general to investigate allegations raised in a Times Free Press series last year, also said Monday they haven’t read the report and declined to comment immediately.
The newspaper investigated allegations that under Bebb, the prosecutor’s office botched important cases through ineptness or misconduct, misused taxpayer money and played favorites in criminal prosecutions in the 10th Judicial District of Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties. The Aug. 12-17, 2012, series of stories drew calls from state lawmakers and others for an investigation.
On Aug. 28, Cooper called for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the state comptroller’s office to begin a joint probe.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and state attorney general’s office are investigating issues raised in a Chattanooga Times Free Press series on the 10th Judicial District.
The Times Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/PMAqrC ) that moments before the announcement, District Attorney General Steve Bebb faxed a statement to the paper. It said he had asked for appointment of a pro tem district attorney to “investigate any allegations of impropriety in this office, either by myself or any employee.”
In a series of articles this month, the paper accused Bebb of mismanaging the district. The paper’s seven-month investigation found that important cases were botched through ineptness or misconduct, that taxpayer money was misused and that the office played favorites during criminal prosecutions.
The district includes Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.
Some Southeast Tennessee lawmakers including state Sen. Mike Bell and Reps. Eric Watson and Kevin Brooks say constituents have been bombarding them with messages and questions about the allegations of multiple problems under District Attorney General Steve Bebb.
The Chattanooga Times-Free Press, which pointed out the allegations in a recent series, now reports on the legislators calling for an investigation. “I believe my constituents would like to see this matter cleared up,” said Bell, a Riceville Republican who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bell said he has spoken to the Senate leadership and to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
“It is my understanding that they [TBI] are looking into the allegations,” Bell said. “I hope that there is an investigation that would get to the bottom of this one way or the other, and that would bring some type of closure to this situation.”
Watson, a Cleveland Republican, former captain in the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a written statement that “the integrity of the system of justice in the Tenth District and in our State should not be determined by mere rumors — nor should the reputation of Steve Bebb.
“If rumors or statements alleging misconduct are true, action should take place, either voluntarily by District Attorney Bebb or by the appropriate authorities including the Tennessee House of Representatives, to ensure that our laws are administered properly,” Watson wrote. “District Attorney Bebb has been seriously maligned by the information which has been presented. If the alleged charges are untrue, he should be cleared of these allegations by the appropriate authorities and the rumors should be dispelled.”
Brooks, also a Cleveland Republican, said he was deferring to his colleagues’ Judiciary Committee experience.
“Obviously they are the ones in the criminal investigations business,” Brooks said Friday.
Contacted by telephone Friday, Bebb said, “I’m not going to comment to you. You’re not going to get a comment from me.”
The Chattanooga Times-Free Press takes a lengthy look at questionable activities in the 10th Judicial District – Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties – under District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb. According to the results of research and interviews done by the Times Free Press:
* Bebb and some of the people he oversaw routinely used public property and money as if it were their own — from cars to phones to cash.
…Bebb also is chairman of the board of the 10th District Drug Task Force, which brought in more than $5 million between 2007 and 2010, mostly from stopping drivers on Interstate 75 and seizing cash, vehicles and other assets, according to Department of Safety records.
The Times Free Press found that Department of Safety files show numerous cases where drug task force agents took large sums of cash from drivers on Interstate 75 without ever charging them with crimes and sometimes without finding drugs.
…he money drug task force agents took off the highway paid for them to travel the country for law enforcement conferences and training. Task force financial records show that the task force — with 14 to 16 agents — spent at least $100,000 between 2008 and 2010 on hotels, meals, mileage and airfare. They took dozens of trips to locations as close as Opryland and Gatlinburg and as far as Washington, D.C., Sandestin, Fla., and Charleston, S.C.
…Former DTF Director Mike Hall’s drug task force credit card was used to charge more than $50,000 between 2008 and 2010 on meals for himself, task force members and guests at local restaurants, as well as gifts, flowers and goodies for co-workers and office secretaries, credit card receipts show.
…In numerous cases, Bebb shelved TBI investigations into allegations of officer misconduct without taking action, state records and newspaper archives show. He routinely declined to charge cops for behavior that would have landed civilians in jail — from abusing prescription pills and beating up spouses, to shooting up a neighborhood with an assault rifle, to driving drunk and wrecking a vehicle with methamphetamine ingredients inside, records show.
…Court records and judges’ opinions contain repeated allegations and findings that 10th District prosecutors withheld evidence, tolerated and even participated in law enforcement misconduct, and violated judicial orders and defendants’ rights in criminal cases.