Saturday, September 20, 2008

Will Shirley go unpunished?

While the Bredesen administration tries to hold Lt. Ronnie Shirley solely responsible for the illegal background checks, will Shirley again go unpunished and be rewarded for his political favors?

The THP has given no indication why Shirley was doing the background checks. The agency leadership and Gov. Phil Bredesen initially suggested he was a "nosy" trooper with too much time on his hands. But the administration announced his termination with the investigation still ongoing after receiving sharp criticism for the way the matter had been handled.

Shirley is the politically connected officer who helped fix a speeding ticket in 2004 for then-Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley.

It later came out that the patrol leadership at the time faked a punishment for Shirley in an effort to throw off the press and public.

It remains to be seen whether the punishment against Shirley sticks this time. Other officers who have been terminated have fought that decision in the state's civil service appeal process and won.

THP wraps up investigation; Most victims were women

The THP has "no comment" on wrapping up its investigation of Bredesen's Watergate. That's the word from Commissioner Dave Mitchell. Results of the Bredesen administration's self-investigation place the blame solely on fall guy Lt. Ronnie Shirley. Results of the investigation were delivered to Davidson County DA Torry Johnson and to U.S. Attorney Ed Yarborough.

The THP says they have interviewed over 140 victims of the Bredesen administration's illegal and unauthorized background checks. Shockingly, a vast majority of the victims were women.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Before there was 180, there was 300

The original reports of Bredesen's Watergate said there were at least 300 illegal, unauthorized background checks. The Bredesen administration, attempting to downplay the severity of the illegal actions of its administration, now claims that there are only 180 victims. Because Bredesen and his team are blocking the release of the names, we may never know. However, one state representative may have the answer:
I think I have found out. My sources say the in house investigation has decided to only look into a limited period of time instead of looking at all the activity of officer Shirley. The 120 other investigations could have been done a matter of days before the investigation start date began. I guess we may never know.

Friday, September 12, 2008

List of Bredesen's Watergate victims to remain secret

Bredesen administration crony and family friend, Bob Cooper in his role as Tennessee's Attorney General, sides with his friend in covering up the list of victims of the THP's illegal background searches. Read the opinion online here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

City Paper demands an independent investigation unit

The City Paper editorializes on the Bredesen administration's failure to clean-up the THP:
Despite Bredesen’s rosy forecast, it is truthfully uncertain whether the THP proved anything with its investigation. While we would like to give the THP and its many hardworking troopers the benefit of the doubt, the results of the probe into Lt. Ronnie Shirley is still cloaked in the secrecy of an ongoing investigation. The list of 182 individuals whose background Shirley allegedly checked is still not public.

The THP has shown traction and a willingness to act in this situation, beginning the process last week to fire Shirley from the patrol. THP Col. Mike Walker is saying and doing all of the right things, the best those looking in from the outside can tell, in investigating what wrongdoing Shirley may have committed.

At the same time, much smaller agencies than the THP immediately call in the TBI when an internal investigation is needed of an officer potentially committing a criminal act. Despite the THP’s size and power, it conducts its own internal investigations without the benefit of even an autonomous internal affairs division common to larger police agencies in urban cities.

If Bredesen is truly going to clean up the THP as promised, an independent investigation mechanism must be established for these instances. We submit to the governor a dedicated internal affairs division is called for in the short term at least to investigate alleged wrongdoing at the THP. If that is not the answer, then some form of independent oversight must be exercised to win back the public’s trust.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bredesen administration just "doesn't get it"

Bill Hobbs sums up today's assertions from Bredesen's Watergate:

Bredesen doesn't get it. Even if the THP investigation was fair and complete, it has no credibility. There is no foundation on which to rest belief in its results. The political ties between the trooper, the THP and the Bredesen administration, are too numerous, too complex and too corrupt.

The governor told us there were 182 victims of the unauthorized snooping. How do we know that's true? The governor told us the troopers' actions were not political - we know that's false given the fact that the trooper investigated a reporter who was investigating the administration's various THP-related scandals, and also investigated a fellow trooper who was suing the THP alleging his career path was hampered by political discrimination within the THP.

Until there is an outside probe, there is not one single fact asserted by the THP or by the governor in this scandal which has any credibility. Not one.

Bredesen administration says it can police itself; Continues to refuse an independent probe

Governor Bredesen today says that the firing of fall guy Lt. Ronnie Shirley in his Watergate is "proof" That the THP can police itself while ignoring his administration's failed track record of scandals:

Gov. Phil Bredesen praised a state Department of Safety probe on Thursday that led to this week's firing of a Highway Patrol officer, saying the investigation into the officer's unauthorized background checks was handled well and showed the agency's ability to police itself.

Bredesen called the recommendation for Lt. Ronnie Shirley's termination a "proper, measured response" to the findings of the ongoing probe, and said he had confidence in Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell.

"He's trying very hard and this was a difficult one, and I think he's working his way through it. I really believe that when we get all done, the public will be satisfied that this was handled in a very appropriate way," he said.

On Wednesday, Mitchell and Highway Patrol Col. Mike Walker announced that Shirley had been recommended for termination for running background checks on 182 Tennesseans, many of them women, using four state databases. The checks were conducted between October 2006 and early July.

A phone message left at Shirley's home was not immediately returned. His attorney did not immediately return a call or e-mail seeking comment.

Bredesen acknowledged criticism leveled at his administration over the decision not to turn over the investigation to an outside agency, such as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Until a recent housecleaning, the patrol has long been known as a hotbed of politics and cronyism with a history of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing by troopers and officers.

Bredesen likened the internal probe to teaching responsibility to a teenage child, calling the case "a hot one" that the department needed to show that it could handle.

Yet, many questions go unanswered. Who was pulling the strings of Lt. Shirley?


Stacey Campfield shares his thoughts.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bredesen administration spies on the "Redneck Woman"

County music star Gretchen Wilson joins the ranks of victims of the Bredesen administration's ilelgal background search scandal. Coincidentally, she was performing at the Republican National Convention yesterday. No political motives?

Don't trust the Bredesen administration to tell the truth

The Tennessean points out the obvious: The Bredesen administration can't be trusted. Following yesterday's recommended firing of the fall guy in the illegal background check scandal, Gail Kerr writes:

So where does that leave us?

People want to believe the THP is going to make this right. The decision to terminate Shirley came quickly after Bredesen got home from the Democratic National Convention. The governor is too smart not to realize this thing was blowing up around him. The THP is finally done horsing around with this guy.

But, unfortunately, there remain unanswered questions.

Shirley, though under suspicion, was allowed to continue having access to the law enforcement database for more than a month. He even received a glowing employee evaluation a month into the criminal investigation. Only after The Tennessean broke the story was the man suspended. Why? The THP says they had to follow proper channels. We'll just have to take their word for it.

Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell said Shirley acted on his own, with no political motive. But they won't release the list of who was improperly investigated. Or speculate onhis motivation. So we'll just have to take his word for it.

Mitchell was emphatic that this sort of thing "will not be tolerated." But the THP, and this administration, has a history of returning folks who have gotten in trouble to well-paid state jobs. When Shirley was caught fixing a ticket for the governor's top dog, former THP leaders created a fake punishment. So will the termination stick? We'll just have to take their word for it.

Commissioner Mitchell pointed to changes he's made in the last 20 months. Is this finally a turning point in the THP mess?

It looks good. Sounds good. But is it real?

After all that has happened, just taking their word for it is unacceptable.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"You're fired!" --- Fall guy fired by Bredesen Administration

Is the fall guy for the Bredesen Watergate getting the ax? That's the word from the Department of Safety which has recommended that Lt. Ronnie Shirley be fired while not giving any motives for the illegal background checks. Shirley will remain on a leave of absence until a hearing is conducted on the recommendation. The Tennessean reports:
The highway patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division has been investigating Shirley’s checks since early July, shortly after receiving a complaint that Shirley had looked up license information of another THP officer.

The division has interviewed 139 of the people on the list, including Tennessean reporter Brad Schrade. On Wednesday, the THP updated the Davidson County District Attorney as well as the U.S. Attorney’s office on the status of the investigation.

Shirley has not been charged, but Mitchell said that he was read his Miranda Rights – informing him of his right not to answer questions – when he was interviewed on Tuesday.

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Associated Press