NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee Highway Patrol sergeant has resigned rather than be fired after an investigation revealed misconduct that included having sex while on duty.
The THP announced Wednesday that 45-year-old James Sells resigned following an internal affairs investigation that also found he misused state property and equipment and was negligent in performing his duties.
Sells worked in the criminal investigations division in Cookeville.
It’s one of several recent misconduct incidents involving the THP.
A Cookeville-based trooper fired in June was later indicted on drunken driving and weapons charges, while two colleagues were disciplined for not reporting the incident.
A Bradley County trooper is charged in the accidental shooting death of his 3-year-old granddaughter.
A former Pickett County trooper pleaded guilty in July to having sex with a minor.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State troopers will be targeting traffic violators in school zones as classes resume across Tennessee.
The speed limit is 15 mph in school zones and the fine for speeding in such a zone is up to $500. It also is against the law to pass a school bus when it is stopped and loading or unloading passengers; fines for that are no less than $250 and up to $1,000.
In 2011, state troopers issued almost 3,900 citations in school zones, up from 3,200 a year earlier.
THP Col. Tracy Trott said motorists who are distracted, impatient or careless can expect a stiff penalty for driving unsafely in school zones.
Six-hundred thousand children ride school buses in Tennessee.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which issues liquor licenses in Tennessee, now has direct access to the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s computer database for accidents related to drunken driving, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
That means the commission will know sooner about any distributor who may be serving underage drinkers or visibly intoxicated ones, officials said Tuesday.
THP Director Col. Tracy Trott and ABC Executive Director Danielle Elks joined others at the Charleston Fire Department on Tuesday to announce the partnership put together by state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland.
“You’ve heard the expression ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ Well, where there’s smoke, the ABC special agents can now look for the fire,” Watson said at the news conference.
“This partnership will allow ABC special agents to more quickly gather information regarding alcohol-related traffic accidents,” he said. “This information could lead to further investigations into possible violations of state liquor laws.”
Defense attorney Jim Logan, a Democrat, said he and Watson, a Republican and veteran law enforcement officer, agreed quickly about the need to spread the responsibility beyond the driver.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Fifty-four Tennessee Highway Patrol cadets begin five months of training Monday in Nashville.
They will spend the next 18 weeks in classroom exercises and physical training, with graduates advancing to a maximum of 12 weeks of field training.
The more than 920 hours of classroom training is divided into 12 major categories including criminal and constitutional law, patrol procedures, professional ethical conduct and firearms.
Twenty-one of the cadets have military experience. Thirty-one have been in law enforcement, dispatch communications or corrections.
The THP currently has 800 troopers.
Tennessee lawmakers outlawed texting while driving more than two years ago, observes Andrea Zelinski, and at the time, predictions were that 3,650 people a year would end up getting pinched thumbing their noses at the law while they thumbed away at their hand-held communication devices.
This year, Tennessee Highway Patrol has issued only 174 citations. Although state officials say they don’t know how many local police citations have been written up, lawmakers who drove the bill through the Legislature say that despite the lack of tickets issued, they still believe the new law has been a success, and not a solution in search of a problem.
“I think law enforcement is beginning to figure out how to enforce it now, and it is difficult, but I think you’re going to see more enforcement as we move on,” said Chairman Jim Tracy who carried the bill in the Senate and runs the chamber’s Transportation Committee.
In 2009, lawmakers approved the texting and driving ban under the assumption it would also collected some $41,600 in fines through the up to $50 per ticket fee.
But in 2010, the state only collected $2,010 in state and county-issued citations, drastically below the state’s original estimates. THP issued 171 citations that year.
Officials who hand off such projections to the Legislature admitted earlier this year they overestimated the number of citations that would be issued for texting and driving in Tennessee.
The new law has yet to cover the price of implementation, which cost taxpayers $10,500 in programming changes to departmental systems required to enforce and track violations of the ban.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state has announced an agreement with Motorola Solutions Inc. for a statewide radio system for state troopers.
Under $39.2 million appropriated by the General Assembly, radios will be upgraded in the Tennessee Highway Patrol Chattanooga, Fall Branch and Knoxville districts. It’s the first phase of the project replacing a system more than 30 years old.
Officials said it would help troopers communicate with authorities in Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
THP Col. Tracy Trott said the lack of a reliable communication system has been an issue for troopers for decades.
Officials said the new system also will help communications between troopers and similar Motorola radio
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — About 900,000 people are projected to travel by car over the long holiday weekend in Tennessee with a special law enforcement crackdown in effect.
Various law enforcement agencies will be especially on the lookout for seat belt violators, impaired drivers and speeders as part of the state’s new “More Cops, More Stops” campaign. Kendell Poole, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, says authorities will be out in force.
State transportation officials will halt all lane closures during the weekend in anticipation of higher traffic volume. However, workers may be on site in some construction zones.
Tennessee had 1,031 traffic fatalities in 2010. So far this year, 831 people have died in traffic accidents, down from 945 at this time a year ago.
Haslam Campaigns for Shelby DA
With the March Shelby County primaries on the way, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will be lending his support to a fundraiser for Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, according to the Memphis Daily News.
Haslam is the featured guest at a $500-a-head fundraiser Nov. 2 at Oaksedge in East Memphis. Weirich will be running in the GOP primary for the remaining two years in the eight-year term of office of Bill Gibbons. Haslam appointed Weirich as the county’s chief prosecutor after tapping Gibbons to be his commissioner of safety and homeland security when Haslam took office as governor in January.
Weirich’s appointment was the first Haslam made to fill a local office. District attorney general is one of three countywide offices on the 2010 ballot. The other two are assessor and General Sessions Court clerk.
THP Having Video Problems
According to WJHL-TV in Tri-Cities, an investigation of Highway Patrol video camera procedures found “a complex web of missing videos, limited oversight and budget restrictions.” Seems the TV station’s effort was inspired by a July 5th crash involving Carter Count Sheriff Christ Mathes wherein state Trooper Brad Proffitt deactivated his dash camera. Proffitt wound up being suspended for one day as punishment.
THP investigated 61 crashes statewide on that day, July 5. The station selected 10 of them to review as a sample. Only five had a video recording and in two of those cases it appeared patrol policy might have been violated.
Said Col. Tracy Trott, Patrol Commander to the TV reporter: ” I see what you’re saying and it is a concern for us. It’s not the most pressing concern we have.”
Former Judge Loses Law License
Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner can no longer practice law in Tennessee, according to the disciplinary arm of the Tennessee Supreme Court. By agreement, Baumgartner was disbarred, according to Thursday’s notice from the Board of Professional Responsibility, reports the News Sentinel.
“Mr. Baumgartner, through counsel, delivered to the Board of Professional Responsibility an affidavit consenting to disbarment because he could not successfully defend against a Petition for Final Discipline based on Mr. Baumgartner’s guilty plea to official misconduct or the board’s investigation of other misconduct…,” the notice states.
Baumgartner, licensed to practice law in the state since 1978, stepped down and pleaded guilty in March to the felony official misconduct charge after a TBI investigation found he had purchased pills from a probationer in his court.
‘Guns in Bars’ Didn’t Hurt Tourism?
Critics of Tennessee’s so-called “guns in bars” law once predicted it would lead to “drunken shootouts” and a decline in tourism, according to Andrea Zelinski, but that hasn’t happened.
In 2010, the year after the law initially went into effect, the state’s tourism numbers were up 6.3 percent, according to state officials. Every county saw a boost in tourism, according to a report by the Department of Tourism Development and the U.S. Travel Association.
“It doesn’t surprise me that tourism didn’t drop,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. “There wasn’t one documented case still to this day of someone going into a bar, a gun permit holder, and using their firearm. There’s still not.”
Shelby Tax Collections Pocketed by Collector?
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office is investigating whether an employee of a Texas-based law firm that collects taxes for the city of Memphis misappropriated thousands of dollars by depositing checks into a personal account, says the CA.
Cedrick Hughes, the Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson firm employee, convinced at least one elderly Memphis couple beginning in 2007 to write checks to Hughes personally instead of to the city, according to City Attorney’s Office officials.
“At this point there’s not much we can say because we’re in the preliminary stages of an investigation,” said Vince Higgins, communications director for the D.A.’s office.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Highway Patrol reports making 39 percent more arrests for drunken driving this year.
The THP said in a news release that troopers have arrested 3,407 people for drunken driving, up from 2,452 for the same period a year ago.
The agency reported the figures in a news release announcing that THP Col. Tracy Trott has been named chairman of the 2012 Nashville Walk Like MADD event. It’s sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to promote awareness of the dangers of driving while impaired. The walk is next June 2 in Bicentennial Mall Park in Nashville.
Trott has made drunken driving enforcement a priority since being appointed colonel in 2010.
LEXINGTON — A state trooper who was shot and wounded Wednesday night on Interstate 40 in Henderson County returned fire, killing the man who shot him, according to the Jackson Sun.
Trooper Dwayne Stanford, 27, was taken to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and was in stable condition, said Department of Safety spokeswoman Dalya Qualls. His injuries were described as not life-threatening.
Authorities said Stanford was shot in the chest. He was wearing a bulletproof vest, which seems to have prevented more serious injuries.
The incident started when Stanford pulled over a car on Interstate 40 westbound near mile marker 115 because the car fit the description of one police were looking for.
Stanford arrested the woman who was driving the car and placed her in custody inside his cruiser, authorities said. A man who was a passenger in the woman’s car then got out and began shooting. Stanford returned fire, killing the man.