1/20/2006Tennessee: Police Ticket-Fixing Favors are OK
Tennessee District Attorney General says it is legal to expect cops to cancel traffic tickets as a favor to frequent gift-giving.
Presenting gifts on a regular basis to police officers and expecting them to drop traffic tickets for you is not a crime in Tennessee. District Attorney General Randy Nichols concluded in a letter Tuesday that it is legal for a state trooper to fix traffic tickets as a favor to friends and gift-givers. A series of articles in The Tennessean newspaper uncovered the practice and spurred Governor Phil Bredesen (D) to seek a formal inquiry by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
In 2001, Trooper Jerry Dean Watson drew attention to the widespread practice when he plead guilty to forging a judge's signature in order to fix a ticket. Watson returned to his job a year later. One of the key benefactors of fixed tickets, Lay Packing Company, routinely provided their products to troopers at no cost throughout 2000.
"This may well have created an atmosphere where Lay Packing Company employees felt comfortable in asking for 'favors'; however, that would not be in and of itself a criminal offense," Nichols wrote. "In fact, it is not a criminal offense if a trooper requests a prosecutor or judge to dismiss the case as a 'favor' unless that request is in return for some direct benefit to the trooper."
The Tennessee Department of Safety ethics rules prohibit police from accepting "gifts or favors which impairs, or gives the appearance of impairing, the persons ability to provide full unbiased public service."
Office of the District Attorney GeneralSource: Trooper ticket-fixing legal, Knox DA says (The Tennessean, 1/18/2006)
6th Judicial District of Tennessee
City-County Building, Suite 168
P.O. Box 1468
Knoxville, Tennessee 37901
January 17, 2006
Honorable Phil Bredesen
Governor, State of Tennessee
State Capitol Building
Nashville, TN 37243-0001
Dear Governor Bredesen:
At your request, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has reinvestigated reports of ticket fixing growing out of an investigation regarding dismissing a traffic citation issued by a Trooper in 2000. I have reviewed both the original TBI investigation in this matter as well as their reinvestigation conducted in the last couple of months. Not long after the original investigation, Lay Packing Company ceased to operate.
The TBI's original investigation in this case was one of the most persistent and effective investigations I have seen. They continued to interview and re-interview several witnesses, following-up on those interviews, catching the witnesses in untruths and obfuscations, ultimately leading to witnesses and the Trooper admitting the pertinent facts to support criminal charges. At that time, the TBI followed every reasonable lead that might have led to information regarding criminal corruption in the disposition of cases handled by Tennessee State Troopers or any other law enforcement officials. Their additional interviews done this year confirmed their original investigation and indicated there was no further criminal activity for the TBI to pursue. Of course, even if criminal activity had occurred as a result of gifts from Lay Packing Company that would have ceased when they closed shortly after the original investigation and the statute of limitations would have run on any offenses. Regardless, the TBI did everything they could to determine if there were any other possible avenues of investigation to pursue and none existed.
While there was no additional criminal investigation or charges to pursue when the original investigation occurred in 200, the investigation did reveal that some Troopers were receiving Lay Packing Company products from time to time, but that these products were not given to any Troopers as a condition of the Troopers carrying out their duties in any way that Lay Packing or its employees requested. This may well have created an atmosphere where Lay Packing Company employees felt comfortable in asking for "favors"; however, that would not be in and of itself a criminal offense. In fact it is not a criminal offense if a Trooper requests a prosecutor or a judge to dismiss the case as a "favor" unless that request is in return for some direct benefit to the Trooper. I would suggest that this is a problem that can be best handled by clear guidelines on the troopers' acceptance of gifts and their recommendations to judges and prosecutors about cases. I hope this information is of assistance to you in assuring the Tennessee Highway Patrol is an effective organization of which we all could be proud.
RANDALL E. NICHOLS
DISTRICT ATTORNEY GENERAL
6th Judicial District
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