Tag Archives: highway patrol

Fired Muslim THP trooper get $100K in damages

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell has ruled that former Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper De’Ossie Dingus is entitled to $100,000 for wrongful termination and years of discrimination because of his Muslim religion, reports the News Sentinel.

“He was treated as a threat,” the judge wrote. “He was labeled as a possible terrorist-in-the-making. He was subjected to humiliating circumstances. All because he is a Sunni Muslim.”

Dingus, a military veteran who worked for the THP for a decade, was fired in 2010 after military liaison Maj. Kevin Taylor called Dingus a potential terrorist based on a brief encounter in November 2009 when Dingus complained about the airing of a video on the radicalization of children during a training class that was supposed to teach troopers how to recognize weapons of mass destruction.

…Campbell’s ruling notes the terrorist claims were the last in a long string of mistreatments of Dingus by supervisors because of his faith.

…Campbell had already ruled in Dingus’ favor, but there was one big legal problem when it came to damages. Rather than going to a psychiatrist or a therapist as a prelude to proving emotional distress or a doctor to corroborate stress-induced illness, Dingus hustled to pay his bills and filed a claim with the Tennessee Civil Service Commission.

He won $154,000 in back pay and benefits as a result of that claim but had to agree to take early retirement. Attorney Knight insisted the Department of Safety needed to be held accountable, and a financial punch for damages was the only way to do that. But the law requires some showing of psychological and medical damages.

Campbell initially awarded Dingus $1, but the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year Dingus’ case was so “egregious” it didn’t matter whether he had proved psychological fallout via traditional means. The harm he suffered, the court opined, was obvious. That ruling led to this week’s reconsideration of damages by Campbell.

Former THP sergeant charged with harboring illegal immigrant

A former Tennessee Highway Patrol sergeant charged with harboring an illegal immigrant will be released from custody Tuesday and allowed to remain at home pending his trial, according to The Tennessean.

In early August, a federal judge ruled that Ronald E. Strickland should remain in custody because connections to Honduras could make him a flight risk. But U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp signed an order Friday releasing Strickland, who will be electronically monitored and allowed to stay at home, according to court records and Strickland’s attorney, Ed Yarbrough.

At a court hearing in early August, Yarbrough said Strickland’s work as a public servant — he served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining THP — and other factors meant he was not a risk and should be released from custody.

Strickland was arrested in late July on a federal charge of harboring a 22-year-old Honduran woman, according to court records. Court documents say he picked up a woman he knew in Texas in mid-July after she traveled from Honduras and through Mexico to meet with him.

THP officer fined $25 after third wreck in two years

A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer involved in two previous accidents — and suspended three days for “unbecoming” conduct — has been fined $25 after being found guilty of failing to use due care in a Kingsport crash, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Ashlee Hill, 31, of Kingsport, has been employed by the THP since February of 2014. According to Megan Buell, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Hill is currently “working in a non-law enforcement capacity” at the THP’s Fall Branch headquarters.

The Kingsport wreck occurred shortly before 6 p.m. on April 28 in the 2700 block of John B. Dennis Highway. A crash report from the THP states that Hill “attempted to pull from the right lane and make a left turn to cross a paved median.”

While doing so, Hill drove her Ford Crown Victoria “into the pathway” of a northbound 1999 Saturn. Hill’s vehicle was T-boned in the driver’s side, leading to her being transported to a local hospital for overnight observation.

Following a THP investigation, Hill was cited for failure to use due care, failure to yield and driving in the improper lane. In her Tuesday appearance in Kingsport court, Judge Ray Conkin found Hill guilty on the due care charge and issued a $25 fine. The other two offenses were dismissed.

Documents obtained through a records request with the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office show that in the past two years, Hill has been suspended on two occasions and has received multiple warnings for other incidents.

According to a Tennessee Department of Safety disciplinary history, in August of 2014, Hill was issued an oral warning for a “patrol vehicle accident.” The very next month, a written warning was issued for an “evidence policy violation.”

…Hill’s disciplinary history shows that in August of last year, “unbecoming conduct” led to her being suspended without pay for three days.

When asked to elaborate on Hill’s alleged conduct, Buell said it pertained to “inappropriate communication with a supervisor.” According to a report from WJHL, Hill had sent “sexually suggestive text messages, some of which were pictures of her either partially clothed or nude.”

On Friday, Buell added that Hill’s status and duties with the THP are dependent on the conclusion of a continuing internal investigation.

State offering $7,500 reward in Highway Patrol station shooting

News release from Department of Safety and Homeland Security
MEMPHIS – The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is offering up to a $7,500 reward for information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the person (s) involved in the shooting of the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Memphis District Office at 6348 Summer Avenue Memphis, TN.

At the time of the shooting employees were present in the building. This shooting occurred on June 5, 2016. At least fourteen rounds were fired into the front of the building, causing significant damage.

Anyone having information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact one of the following law enforcement agencies or anonymous tip lines:

Tennessee Highway Patrol Criminal Investigations Division, District 4: 731-668-9644 Tennessee Highway Patrol Memphis: (901) 543-6256 Bartlett Police Department Crime Stoppers: 901-385-5550 Bartlett Crime Stoppers: (901) 382-MONY (382-6669) Memphis Crime Stoppers: (901) 528-CASH (528-2274)

“This was a serious and blatant attack on law enforcement, and we intend to do everything we can to hold anyone involved accountable. We need the public’s help to insure that justice is done in this case,” said Bill Gibbons, Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security.

“This was a deliberate attack on the fiber of all that is good. We will not stand by and let our employees be attacked and then do nothing. This despicable act of violence is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We are requesting the public’s assistance, this is your community,” said Tracy Trott, Colonel of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Further, from the Commercial Appeal:

Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. William Futrell told officers that they heard 15 to 20 gunshots.

Authorities said several rounds hit the front of the building. Officers found 14 AK-47 shell casings in the eastbound lanes of the highway in front of the headquarters.

Bartlett Police Chief Gary Rikard said they have received a few tips and reviewed surveillance videos, but need more information.

TN Highway Patrol station riddled by rifle fire

Multiple high-powered rifle shots were fired at a Tennessee Highway Patrol station in Shelby County, reports the Commercial Appeal.

According to Bartlett police reports, officers received a shots fired call to the station… about 8:45 p.m. Sunday. When they arrived, THP Lt. William Futrell said he heard 15 to 20 gunshots, and there were bullet holes in the front of the building.

Authorities advised that several rounds penetrated the front of the building, Officers at the scene found 14 AK-47 shell casings in the eastbound lanes of the highway in front of the headquarters.

“The rounds were in a tight group as if the suspect(s) stopped their vehicle in the middle of the road, stepped out of the vehicle, and intentionally fired the rounds into the police station,” Lt. Cary Hopkins, the THP public information officer, said in a report.

Three people — two dispatchers and a trooper — were inside the office at the time. No one was injured in the incident, Hopkins said.

No more paint on Highway Patrol cars; savings $1,910 per vehicle

News release from Tennessee Department of Safety
NASHVILLE – Tennessee taxpayers will soon see the benefits of a new project that will dramatically reduce the costs for marking Tennessee Highway Patrol cruisers.

The Tennessee Department of General Services, which manages State-owned motor vehicles through its Motor Vehicle Management division, and the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which includes the Tennessee Highway Patrol, have collaborated on the new effort in which the distinctive black-and-cream color scheme for patrol vehicles is applied with adhesive vinyl instead of paint.

The cost savings are projected to be at least $1,910 on each marked THP vehicle, said Bob Williams, assistant commissioner for vehicles and asset management.

“This is money that can be used for vital programs and services for all Tennesseans rather than on administrative costs of government,” Williams said.
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Highway Patrolman involved in fatal Interstate accident

Authorities are investigating the death of a motorcyclist in an Interstate 24 accident involving a veteran Tennessee Highway Patrol officer, reports the Times-Free Press.

The officer was identified as Butch Reeves, who has been a state trooper since 1999. The motorcycle rider was Jim Garner, 66, of Ringgold, Ga.

THP officials in Nashville did not respond to questions Thursday about Reeves’ employment status.

The accident happened Saturday at 2:13 p.m. CDT at mile marker 161 in the eastbound lanes of I-24 in heavy traffic on the bridge over Nickajack Reservoir, according to authorities.

Garner was the lone rider on a motorcycle when Reeves’ trooper car struck him from behind, District Attorney General Mike Taylor said.

Taylor said he didn’t know what contributing factors were involved in the crash yet, but noted that “my preliminary indication was that [the trooper] was not on an emergency call,” Taylor said.

Details are still being gathered by THP traffic crash investigators, he said.

Lawsuit contends TN Highway Patrol has quota system for DUI arrests

A Greeneville attorney has filed a federal lawsuit contending the Tennessee Highway Patrol has a quota system for DUI arrests in violation of state law, reports the Johnson City Press.

Attorney Frank Santore filed the suit for his client, Gary A. Williams, over an arrest that stemmed from a wreck on April 20, 2014, in Jefferson County. Williams, who was riding a motorcycle, hit a vehicle that pulled into his path, according to the suit. Williams was injured and spent several months recovering. During Williams’ medical treatment, Trooper William Satterfield ordered a blood draw to test for alcohol or drugs.

Almost a year later — on Feb. 11, 2015 — the investigating officer, Trooper Derek Turbeville, obtained a warrant and Williams was arrested and charged with DUI based on a lab report showing marijuana metabolites in his system. Because Williams was injured, the trooper was unable to conduct field sobriety tests at the scene. On the day of Williams’ trial in Jefferson County General Sessions Court in March, the case was dismissed outright because the “labs only show metabolites,” according to a notation on the court judgment form.

But regardless of the fact it was thrown out, the DUI remained in the THP’s documented arrests because the agency does not follow through with case disposition, according to what officials told the Johnson City Press in several interviews last year. Commissioner of Safety Bill Gibbons and THP Col. Tracy Trott adamantly denied there was a quota system, even though multiple troopers — whose identities have been protected by the Press — said otherwise.

…In Williams’ lawsuit, he asserts that it was because of an unwritten rule for troopers to meet a certain level of arrests that he was arrested.

“Although not specifically contained in their policies and procedures, (Williams) avers that it an unwritten rule among the rank and file of the troopers patrolling Tennessee highways that they are under pressure by their superiors to ’make the numbers look good,’ i.e. to make arrests,” Santore wrote in the lawsuit. “If arrest numbers do not meet certain quotas … troopers that do not meet these quotas are given, if not explicit, implicit reprimands, demotions, changes of shift, poor preferences for schedules, and are subject to other adverse employment actions.”

The lawsuit states that because of the “informal quota system,” troopers were pressured to arrest Williams without probable cause even though the lab report “showed insufficient substances,” that would have impacted his ability to operate a vehicle. The lawsuit further noted that the charge against Williams was dismissed without the assistant district attorney general ever consulting with the investigating troopers.

As a result of his arrest, Williams had to pay a $500 bond to get out of jail, where he spent one night, and $4,000 in legal fees to defend himself… Williams asks for a jury trial and judgments against the state and Department of Safety for $350,000 as compensatory damages for violating his civil rights and $700,000 in punitive damages against the department.

Note: A previous 2015 post on THP quota claims is HERE.

Pedestrian, bike rider deaths running high in TN

While traffic fatalities have declined overall in Tennessee during 2015, deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists have reached the highest level in 20 years, reports WPLN. The Tennessee Highway Patrol plans to make pedestrian safety a priority in 2016.

The Department of Safety website lists 906 fatalities overall in 2015, as posted today, compared to 939 on the same day in 2014.

Shown this year’s stats — 120 pedestrians and bicyclists killed as of Dec. 29 — the numbers surprised Mary-Pat Teague, chairwoman of Metro’s Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).

“Oh, wow … this is horrible,” she began, “I know it’s bad. It’s really horrible. It’s just heartbreaking.”

Like others, Teague is sorting out what’s happening in Tennessee and what can change.

Six pedestrians died in Nashville in November and December, raising alarm among advocates and a new round of questions about why some people continue to be injured or killed on infamously dangerous streets, like Harding Place.

…While Metro examines crosswalks and police enforcement, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is also making pedestrian safety a priority in 2016.

Lt. Bill Miller said he worries about distraction — and not just for drivers.

“Is there something that we can do to better educate the public as to the dangers that are involved with walking and being distracted at the same time?”

Miller says it’s an urgent challenge because 10 percent of roadway fatalities now involve people outside of vehicles.

In urban areas, Miller called attention to drivers making right turns at red lights. In rural areas, he pointed to narrow road shoulders as a risk.

“We are, unfortunately, being hit very hard with non-motorized and pedestrian fatalities,” he said. “That is going to be one of our primary areas of focus in 2016.”

THP wants to close truck ‘loophole’ in seat belt law

The Tennessee Highway Patrol wants to close a little-known loophole in the state’s seatbelt law that exempts drivers and passengers in heavy-duty trucks and SUVs, according to WPLN.

These are vehicles with a gross weight between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds, including a Ford F-250 Super Duty and some Chevy Surburbans and Lincoln Navigators.

When Tennessee’s seat belt laws were first written in 1986, big diesel pickups and the largest SUVs were left out.

“Most of those vehicles were farm vehicles at the time, being driven around or close to the farms,” says Col. Tracy Trott of the Highway Patrol. “The dynamics of vehicles and families have changed, and that’s why we want to close that loophole and keep people safe.”

Now, some suburban teenagers drive heavy-duty trucks to high school everyday and farm families take trips in three-quarter-ton SUVs. Trott acknowledges the numbers are relatively small, and the owners probably don’t even know about the seat belt exemption. But Trott hopes to have his proposal included as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda next year, which should increase the chance of passage.

This year, Trott successfully pushed through the first-ever increase to Tennessee’s fine for seat belt violations. Starting in January, the penalty jumps from $10 to $25, which is still in the middle of the pack compared to other states.

Troopers have also gotten more serious about writing tickets in recent years. The number of citations written this year has crossed 107,000 so far — 2.5 times more than at the same time five years ago.