Before we ask about April Randolph . . .

Rumor, documents link Gaw, Terry

Putnam Pit editor

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. , (Aug. 28, 1999) -- Former Police Chief Bill Benson undertook an investigation into a complaint that on March 24, 1998, Police Officer William Drossman, speaking to Tennessee Tech students, slandered businessman Mike Gaw.

Gaw was widely reported to have been partially the target of a federal investigation involving, at least, General Sessions Court Clerk Lewis Coomer's files.

But the official records do not show that Benson took any action whatsoever regarding the officer's concern that there were leaks within the department. In fact, there is no record at all that Police Officer Drossman asked for an investigation in two areas involving Chief Robert Terry.

Documents purportedly gathered during an internal investigation were obtained by The Putnam Pit following a request under the Tennessee public information act.

The documents, acquired from the Cookeville Police Department, are for the most part unsigned statements allegedly written by city investigators, and correspondence among department employees involved in the investigation.

One report, said by the city to be written by Lt. Mark Webb, states that Gaw made a verbal complaint on March 27, 1998, in which

" . . . [M]r. Gaw stated that he felt some Cookeville Police officers were out to get him. He said a family member told him that Officer Drossman said he was a drug dealer, indicated that the Gaw family was involved with drugs., that he should be in prison, and that he misuse his political powers. . . .
"Officer Drossman stated that all he said was that Mr. Gaw was the man to see if you want on Tennessee Highway Patrol."

The documents provided by the city government suggest a troubled state public safety hiring apparatus based on bribes. Law enforcement students are getting a message: money to Gaw can secure a Tennessee Highway Patrol position.

The documents delivered by Cookeville police under the state public records act, if they are correct, suggest:

  • John Agee, the son of a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer, told an investigator on June 17, 1998, that he was present when Drossman told students at Tennessee Technological University that "Michael Gaw had enough [cocaine] to sprinkle on everyone in Putnam County." In the report, the investigator notes that if Drossman mentioned Gaw's connection to drugs, " I think this was possibly misunderstood by Mr. Agee. I think Officer Drossman was referring to past involvement not now." The investigator allegedly added to his report: "I question why (Agee) has been so vocal in all this. He left me thinking that possibly because his father is a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer, he may have a special interest in this."

  • Steven Brent Anderson, wrote that John "Agee said he heard some Cook[ville] city officer had to go see one individual. John Agee wouldn't say who it was, Bill said Mike Gaw."

  • Alice K Livingston told an investigator on June 18, 1998, that Drossman talked about how a Cookeville Police officer "had went to Mr. Gaw for getting a job with THP and how this officer was told if you don't do what I ask I hope you like Memphis, " if the city's investigation is to be believed.

  • Vickie S. Morgan, interviewed June 22, 1998, according to records provided by Cookeville police, said Drossman spoke to students and "named the business man as Michael Gaw and talked of how he required officers to rent apartments from him in order to get a job or stay in this area."

  • Amanda L. Deering alleges, in what police say is her interview, that Drossman came to talk about a K-9 program but students "kept talking about what they heard." This alleged interview report includes an observation by the interviewer that
  • "Officer Drossman should not have mentioned names in this class, but this discussion about politics and state jobs is common knowledge around Cookeville. His outspoken comments about his own opinion of Mr. Gaw were, in my understanding, a result of actions from another Cookeville Police officer and are out of line and must be stopped."
    Drossman denied the allegation that he slandered Gaw.

    "My personal knowledge about Gaw's drug-related past was minimal and was based solely on information given to me by Sgt. Bob Terry and Police Chief Bill Benson," Drossman wrote in a July 16, 1998, response to the complaint.

    He referred to his remarks to the TTU students:

    " . . . [O]ne of the most demeaning aspects of being a police officer, that there is a degree of corruption in police work that affects us all, that it becomes a personal choice for an officer to tolerate corruption on any level or to any degree, and that police officers are often faced with changing their principles when dealing with corruption."

    On March 31, 1998, Lt. Webb allegedly drove to Gaw's office, and was discussing with Gaw the need to put a complaint into writing.

    "Sgt. Robert Terry with the Cookeville Police Department came in at this time."

    Terry, then head of District Attorney General William Gibson's Drug Task Force, is now Cookeville's police chief.

    During the investigation Gaw allegedly told an investigator that he was approached by a "uniformed Cookeville Police officer with a CRT patch," who "told him that if anything happens to Bill Drossman over this complaint, some way, some how you will pay," according to the documents obtained from city police.

    Terry allegedly had a close personal relationship with Gaw, someone public documents allege at one time had enough cocaine "to sprinkle on everyone in Putnam County." Terry also may have improperly contacted another officer outside the chain of command to inquire whether Gaw was
    under a narcotics investigation. Terry allegedly said he was worried it would embarrass Gaw.

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