THP to fire 4 troopers
They face dismissal for conduct unbecoming an officer;
Quartet includes sex filmer, trooper who shot brother
Gerald Nicely, left, acting state safety commissioner, and Edward B. Jones, an assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, take part in a news conference at which results of a review of trooper offenses that turned up in THP background checks were released. JAE S. LEE / STAFF
By BONNA de la CRUZ and TRENT SEIBERT
Published: Friday, 12/23/05
A trooper who videotaped people having sex in public places and one who shot her brother in a fight over a tub of butter were targeted for firing yesterday in an ongoing cleanup of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The proposed firings of those two and two other officers — one accused of drunken driving and another with a long history of citizen complaints — are the next steps in Gov. Phil Bredesen's housecleaning of the troubled THP.
State officials also are making changes so that it could be harder for those without clean records to get on the force.
At the same time, the interim head of the state Safety Department, which oversees the THP, warned those already at the THP who have prior records to expect harsher punishment if they cross the law again.
"This is certainly not a happy day," said Gerald Nicely, who as acting safety commissioner is overseeing the Highway Patrol. "But I do believe this action constitutes the first steps in preparing the department for the future."
Bredesen forced out the top three officials at Safety earlier this month after a monthslong investigation by The Tennessean found political patronage and favoritism at the THP. Former Commissioner Fred Phillips and THP commander Lynn Pitts resigned, while Deputy Commissioner Tom Moore retired.
That set in motion an internal review in which, in the past 10 days, three top state officials combed through personnel files of 41 THP officers with criminal charges or serious traffic violations in their pasts.
The three-member review panel found that seven troopers had gotten in trouble after they joined the THP. Of those seven, two — Trooper Angelinette Crawford and Capitol Police Sgt. Gregory Badacour, both of Nashville — were placed on administrative leave yesterday in a run-up to termination.
Both were singled out because they had been lightly punished, if at all, by THP supervisors, although they had been indicted or pleaded guilty to crimes and put on probation.
The other two — Tony Schuer of Chattanooga and Russell Cope, working in Cookeville — are in the middle of a formal process to get a hearing before being terminated.
When asked why the previous leadership of the patrol didn't do something about Crawford and Badacour, Nicely said he suspected that was part of its culture that Bredesen has asked him to change.
That culture included THP brass who turned a blind eye to such offenses, hiring some applicants because of their connections more than their qualifications, Bredesen said earlier this month.
Nicely yesterday said his management team would continue to field and investigate complaints about problem troopers.
"Based on what I know, some of this should have been done by now," said state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee has begun his own probe of the troubled agency.
"This is progress on one hand, but I don't have a sense on where they are headed," Norris said. "Generally, they did the right thing, but I don't know why it took this long."
Here is a summary of the legal and previous THP dispositions of the cases against the four troopers:
Trooper Angelinette Crawford
Crawford pleaded guilty in a Davidson County court last year to shooting her live-in brother in the leg during a struggle, but she was never disciplined by the THP.
A Davidson County grand jury indicted her on one count of reckless endangerment, said Debbie Housel, assistant district attorney general who prosecuted her case.
As part of a diversion agreement, Crawford, 32, never entered a plea to the crime. She served nine months probation, which ended last month. She was also required to get counseling and do community service, which she served out at a Metro school.
Because she was a first-time offender, the judge and prosecutor agreed that her case could be expunged, Housel said.
A relatively new trooper, Crawford joined the force as a Capitol Police officer in June 2002. The THP, which has since largely ab-sorbed the Capitol Police unit, put her on two days administrative leave after the shooting, and then shifted her from patrolling the state Capitol to "light duty," and later to staff a truck weigh station on Interstate 65 in Robertson County.
Although a grand jury found enough evidence to send her to court, the brass at THP closed its internal investigation by simply recommending that her probationary period be extended. It was unclear from her personnel file what sort of THP probation she was under.
"We have found that you violated no Departmental Policy or Procedure during the off-duty incident during a physical altercation with your brother," according to an Internal Affairs memo.
The memo also tells Crawford that the THP "would like to stress to you the importance when making a decision in using deadly force."
The July 1, 2004, fight started over a tub of butter that her brother lent to a neighbor but escalated over Crawford's frustration that he was freeloading, Metro police reports said. She told him to leave her Priest Lake apartment. He refused. She threatened to call the police. And he told her, "I will give you a reason to call the police."
After he grabbed her arms and shoulders and pushed her, she broke loose and got her state-issued pistol from her bedroom closet, police said. The siblings wrestled. He hit her and kicked her, and when she struggled to get back on her feet, the gun went off, she told police.
Trooper Tony Schuer
Chattanooga-based Schuer was arrested last month on charges of drunken driving and refusing to take a breath test. His case was bound over to the Rhea County grand jury earlier this month.
Schuer, 37, had his state-issued gun with him when he was charged with drunken driving, although he was in his own car and off duty, officials said.
He first came to attention when his name showed up earlier this month as one of the 41 THP troopers with criminal backgrounds. The checks were performed after The Tennessean inquired about a THP memo advising troopers to get any felonies expunged from their records.
Schuer's background was a child abuse charge from six years ago. That case was dismissed, officials said. The nature of the child abuse charge is not known, but it happened before he was commissioned as a trooper on Nov. 1, 2002.
Schuer was honorably discharged as a specialist in the U.S. Army after serving four years, including a stint with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, according to his Safety Department of Safety personnel file.
When he began working for the Safety Department, he manned a truck weigh station in Knox County. He was assigned to be a trooper in Marion County last year.
Trooper Russell Cope
A trooper on the highways since 1971 who has a long history of accusations of aggressive behavior and rude speech is also among those now facing termination from the Highway Patrol.
Master Trooper Russell J. Cope, 58, now patrolling the Cookeville area, is not among the THP personnel who were recently found to have criminal offenses in their backgrounds. However, the recent internal probe noted that Cope "has a long history of allegations in his Internal Affairs file," Nicely said.
Specifically, the commissioner said he had recently learned of "an incident on I-65 in Giles County" in 2000 involving Cope.
Nicely and other state officials would release few other details about what happened, except that they had viewed Cope's in-car camera footage from the incident and found that it included "violations of department policies and actions unbecoming a member of the Tennessee Highway Patrol."
Cope, though, has a different version of why he's facing a firing: The Bredesen administration is retaliating against him for providing information to a state senator who is holding legislative hearings on the influence of politics in the THP.
"It ain't nothin' but retaliatory," Cope said in a telephone interview from his home in Crossville. "Out of the wild blue yonder, they just happened to run across my tapes? You know what the old saying is: 'If you can't kill the message, kill the messenger.' "
Cope said that, about three weeks ago, he provided information to Sen. Norris about top officials in the Safety Department and the dirty dealings of troopers. "For a number of years, I've refused to take part in ticket-fixing and agreeing to dismiss cases against people with DUIs," Cope said.
In the traffic stop in question, Cope said, he pulled over two cars in May 2000. Dispatchers had put out the word that cars coming north from Alabama on I-65 were seen swerving and their occupants throwing bottles and cans out the windows, Cope said. He saw two cars on the side of the road, pulled over and began asking questions.
By the time it was done, "one of them ended up trying to assault me, I ended up taking one to jail for juvenile consumption," Cope said.
Cope said THP officials were accusing him of talking to motorists in a derogatory manner, dereliction of duty and failure to maintain control of the situation.
He also could face possible criminal prosecution, as Nicely said Cope's in-car videotape would be turned over to the local district attorney general.
Giles County District Attorney General Mike Bottoms yesterday said no complaints had been made about the 2000 incident, and that he didn't know the circumstances surrounding it. Until he looks at the tape, he said, he will have no comment.
Safety officials would not make the tape public yesterday.
"I never got assaulted, I never shot nobody, I never cussed nobody, I never made no racial slurs," Cope said.
Cope is white. The cars' drivers and passengers were young black men and women.
Cope's 700-plus-page THP personnel file shows Cope faced complaints, along with reprimands, suspensions and transfers, almost as often as the seasons changed.
One memo to him from then-Commissioner Phillips, dated Nov. 12, 2003, notes that Cope has garnered 12 formal complaints regarding "rudeness and unprofessional conduct … and you have failed to correct this problem."
Cope also was required to do 26 weeks of anger management counseling at Tennessee Tech University.
He gave $1,000 to Bredesen's 2002 campaign, disclosure forms show.
Sgt. Gregory Badacour
Sitting outside the Internal Affairs office yesterday morning and facing the loss of his badge and gun, Badacour had "a thousand-yard stare" affixed to his face.
Also waiting there at the THP's south Nashville headquarters was Cope, who spotted Badacour.
"He was sitting there, staring across the room like nobody else was there," Cope said of the younger officer. "He didn't acknowledge me. He didn't say a word."
Badacour, 35, admitted last year to Metro police that he had secretly filmed people around town having sex in public. He pleaded guilty to one charge of illegally filming and is on probation, but his Metro file — a file that Safety officials said they had not previously been aware of — says he filmed at least nine other couples and admitted to clicking on Internet child pornography on his computer.
His only punishment on the job was a one-day suspension last year, and until yesterday morning he was still patrolling the state Capitol. The Capitol Police are part of the THP.
Badacour was found with his video camera at Nashville's Love Circle last August. Police said his videotapes showed he had been filming couples having sex near the Capitol and in downtown parking garages, as well.
Badacour pleaded guilty to unlawful photography on Feb. 9. He was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days probation, fined $500 and told to get counseling and stay away from parks, according to court records.
When Badacour left the office yesterday, Cope said, it looked as if a weight had been lifted from him. Badacour spoke to his supervisor, who was with him.
"He was telling him he didn't blame him," Cope said. "He seemed kinda cheerful." •
Published: Friday, 12/23/05