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Cookeville Police Chief Bob Terry

Opinion

Here's a reason cities have no money and want legislators to bail them out

Police cannot buy respect or legitimacy
In the absence of integrity, nothing will bring confidence

By GEOFF DAVIDIAN
Putnam Pit editor

Cookeville, Tenn. (March 10, 2002) --  Police have hired a retired FBI agent to investigate the March 3 shooting of Officer Brad Sperry by officer Zac Birdwell; an incident the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation already is investigating and is reportedly expected to go to the grand jury this week. 

But a retired FBI agent IS NOT the FBI. A retired FBI agent is a hired investigator who works for a client trying to gather the evidence the client wants. 

In this case, the client is the Cookeville Police Department. What does Chief Bob Terry want that he thinks the TBI won't get?

Legitimacy. 

In a message to his department and state news organizations, Terry says:

"I absolutely refuse to allow the actions of one individual to cast a shadow on all we have accomplished. I feel an obligation to every man and woman employed by the Cookeville Police Department, to prove without any doubt, that this was an isolated incident and does not reflect on the quality of this department or its personnel. I will not allow the officers and staff of this department to work under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust.

"With that in mind, I have arranged for an independent investigation to be conducted. I have requested Burl Smith, a retired agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct this investigation. Burl Smith is respected by members of both law enforcement and our community as a whole. I have asked Burl to investigate the events that occurred leading up to the wounding of Officer Sperry. All officers and civilian employees of the department are cooperating fully. I am confident that this investigation will provide all of us with the answers we need to put this incident behind us.

In Terry's words, the investigation is to "prove without any doubt, that this was an isolated incident and does not reflect on the quality of this department or its personnel." He does not mention the phrase "to come to the truth about the shooting." 

Yet in his next sentence, he says, "I will not allow the officers and staff of this department to work under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust."

It is not difficult to see why Terry wants to convince the public that the Department is professional and not a band of drunken, partying cowboys. The department has already attempt to censor this publication under the pretext that it  finds communicating with the press and legislators 'unethical' and 'spamming.' City Manager Jim Shipley, fresh from defending in a federal civil rights trial the city's refusal to link to a critical website, apparently has learned what free speech means and intervened. 

Just six years ago, former Police Capt. Wayne Bandy was accused of tormenting Officer Reno Martin by frequently holding a gun to his head in front of other officers, making sexual comments to him and wetting his finger and sticking it in Martin's ear.

When former Police Chief Richard Holt suspended Bandy during his investigation of the allegations, he discovered that there was workman's compensation fraud within the department. When Holt told City Manager Jim Shipley he wanted the TBI or FBI to investigate, Holt says Shipley tried to stop him, and when Holt turned his files over to government investigators, Shipley fired him. See Shipley speak: Good is bad, bad is good.

Although police officers took polygraph tests that showed, in their opinions,  their stories of Bandy were true, Shipley discounted it. A member of the Police Department's command staff, Fred White, refused to take a polygraph test about what happened. 

Martin and Holt later filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the city: The city settled Martin's claim, and Holt lost in federal court, but taxpayers picked up all the expenses while Bandy was put in a different job where he did not have a gun. Shipley said the incident was "horseplay."

Then, we find that of all the applicants for police chief, Shipley hires Terry, the least educated and most controversial of the candidates, one of whom, incidentally, a retired FBI agent.

Before becoming chief, Sergeant Terry was head of DA Bill Gibson's Drug Task Force, where despite being management collected more overtime than any other member of the organization, signing his own time sheets.

An agreement between the City and Drug Task Force required Putnam County to reimburse the city for Drug Task Force overtime payments to city police officers who served on it, but Terry was collecting far more than anyone could afford. Although the law forbids it, Terry acknowledges proceeds from confiscated property was used to repay the city for the overtime. Finally, when even that couldn't satisfy his thirst for money, the city continued to pay him without seeking reimbursement, passing the cost on to taxpayers.

Once he became chief, Terry immediately went to work putting his name on everything that didn't move, not so much erasing Holt from history as taking credit for things he had nothing to do with.

The once-open police headquarters was transformed into a bunker, with windows closed and the inside hidden from the public. In the lobby, a massive desk attempting to bring a sense of authority or legitimacy to the department is surrounded by photographs of the city council, Terry and former chiefs.

We later learned what Terry was doing in his secret headquarters: He was using police equipment to send pornography to DA Bill Gibson.

Yet, despite the generosity showed to Terry by the city council, at taxpayer expense, crime has risen 10 times faster than Cookeville's population. In its annual report, the Police Department accentuates the positive while ignoring statistics that are relevant. A survey shows little faith in Cookeville or Putnam County officials.

So now, taxpayers again will foot the bill, by paying for an "independent investigation," to give Bob Terry what he needs to appear he has a good department, and to fulfill his "obligation to every man and woman employed by the Cookeville Police Department, to prove without any doubt, that this was an isolated incident and does not reflect on the quality of this department or its personnel. I will not allow the officers and staff of this department to work under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust."

Of course, every incident is isolated if the time frame is small enough.

But, unfortunately, it was not an isolated incident in the history of Bob Terry.

Terry's use of taxpayer money to buy evidence and the appearance of legitimacy is clearly an abuse of the trust he now claims he is trying to prove he deserves, and hiring an investigator to find the evidence of it is proof that his effort is a failure.

In fact, his "absolutely" refusal to "allow the actions of one individual to cast a shadow on all we have accomplished" fails to take into consideration the fact that it is in his shadow that so much nastiness has occurred.

If Shipley and the council want a professional law enforcement arm, Bob Terry is not the man to provide it.