Nashville to launch investigation into complaint alleging police lobbied to gut oversight panel

  • Canadian Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Nashville Mayor Freddie O'Connell on Friday announced an independent investigation following a complaint alleging the police department actively lobbied to gut the city's community oversight board, as well as a number of other misconduct claims.

The complaint was filed earlier this month by Garet Davidson, who retired from the Metro Nashville Police Department in January. He worked two years in the department's Office of Professional Accountability, which is the city's internal affairs unit.

A redacted copy of the 61-page complaint provided by the police department outlines a long list of claims ranging from accusations that ranking personnel receive better outcomes in investigations, command staff being overly involved in internal investigations, officers purposefully not keeping records to avoid any incriminating paper trails, an improper reduction of police training for new recruits, and a failure to enact a "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual harassment and discrimination.

"I believe it's important -- and I believe the public expects -- that we establish impartiality when it comes to serious allegations about conduct within Metro, and it is important to conduct an independent investigation into the recent allegations made by former MNPD Lt. Garet Davidson and filed with MNPD's Office of Professional Accountability," O'Connell said in a statement Friday.

The investigation will be led by former U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton, who served as the chief federal prosecutor in West Tennessee during the Obama administration.

Stanton was recently tapped by Republican Gov. Bill Lee to review Tennessee's lethal injection manual and Department of Correction staffing. Stanton's investigation ultimately foun d that Tennessee has not complied with its own lethal injection process ever since it was revised in 2018, resulting in several executions being conducted without proper testing of the drugs used.

Meanwhile, Nashville's police department said Friday that it will also conduct its own investigation into the complaint.

"A periodic review of practices and procedures in a large police department such as ours is healthy for the organization," Police Chief John Drake said in a statement.

Out of the several allegations Davidson listed in his complaint, Drake's statement only addressed the accusation involving a lack of proper training for new officers.

"The state of Tennessee requires a minimum 488 training hours to be certified as a police officer. New police officers who graduate from MNPD basic training receive 893.5 hours of training, 83% more training hours than required by the state," he said.

Yet tucked inside the sweeping complaint are allegations that two high-ranking Nashville officers worked with Tennessee's Republican-controlled Legislature on legislation that ultimately resulted in all community oversight boards being replaced with review committees that have no power to investigate police misconduct allegations.

Under the new law, which went into effect last summer, community oversight boards were transformed into "police advisory and review committees," which will only allow the mayor-appointed members to refer complaints to law enforcement internal affairs units.

The move came as Nashville voters overwhelmingly approved creating a community oversight board in 2022.

As a reward for gutting the community oversight board, Davidson's complaint alleges that at least one officer received a "small, laser engraved crystal-style award in front of nearly the entire OPA Division."

Davidson also alleged that both the officers and lawmakers worked privately to "subvert local law in order to have something more favorable" and did so "behind closed doors, with contact with lawmakers believed to have been kept off official records."

News of the complaint was first made public last week by Nashville's Community Review Board -- the panel that replaced the community oversight board.

At that meeting, members discussed the allegations despite being advised to keep the matter secret by the city's attorney. Members expressed frustration at the advice.

Notably, Nashville's legal department did not launch a lawsuit against the state seeking to protect the community oversight board even though it filed several lawsuits against newly enacted statutes targeting Nashville.