Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb says his office never backs away from prosecuting police officers when it is warranted and categorically denies favoritism plays a role in his decisions not to prosecute.
“I would be willing to bet you that we have investigated and prosecuted more law enforcement officers than any other DA in the state in the last four years,” Bebb said last Wednesday during a lengthy interview in his downtown Cleveland office.
Included in the interview was Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett who named 12 officers who have been prosecuted or who are currently under indictment. But, allegations of favoritism still exist which he said began with former DTF agent Lt. Bobby Queen.
“We’ve got three officers under indictment right now in McMinn, two officers under indictment in Monroe,” he said. “The main allegation involves Bobby Queen.”
Archived news stories from the Cleveland Daily Banner tell of Queen in his residence with a .223-caliber automatic weapon on Thursday, June 5, 2008. Events that began as a domestic disturbance escalated into a standoff with units from the Cleveland Police Department, Bradley County and Hamilton County SWAT units, and Hamilton County Negotiating Team. The radio dispatch went out at about 11 p.m. The ordeal ended at 4:41 the following morning.
At one point, shortly before 1 a.m., a radio transmission reported homes on either side were ordered evacuated because Queen made threats to himself "and is coming out of the house firing a weapon in three-round bursts saying 'Come on' and going back inside the residence.”
Hatchett said Queen suffered what could best be described as a “mental breakdown” after a celebrated career. He and Agent Matt Bales were responsible for the largest cash bust on the interstate, in January 2004 when they discovered more than $1.5 million. That law enforcement action surpassed the $1.1 million seizure by Bradley County Sheriff's Office in January 2004.
“He discharges his weapon in his house. His wife leaves the house, calls for law enforcement and law enforcement responds,” the ADA said. “From that point to the charging decision, this is pretty much how it went.
“His wife initially says one thing on the scene. She’s upset, says he tried to kill her, made all of these threats, pointed a gun at her. I thought we had a crime and she backs away from all of that. There is a TBI file on all of that. That’s why some of these accusations are so funny. It was investigated,” Hatchett said.
Bradley County Sheriff’s Office was in charge of the scene and local investigation of events. The investigative report noted officers indicated bullets struck near them.
“All right, fine. We have a crime,” Hatchett said. “TBI goes and interviews these officers and they say, ‘No, I didn’t personally see that. A police officer over there told me.’”
Hatchett said the next officer said essentially the same thing ... that no, he did not see bullets striking near him, but another officer did. No officer on the scene verified they were in the danger zone.
“Then we had officers who said he pointed a gun at them,” Hatchett continued. “Fine, we have a crime,” but again, each officer said they were told by someone else.
“This is in the file. This is what we had. The law in Tennessee is that you can discharge a weapon if it’s pointed straight up into the air. If it’s not pointed at anybody, it’s not a crime and all of the bullet holes went straight through the man’s roof,” Hatchett said. “He shot his own house up. We can’t prosecute him for that. You can blow your house to smithereens as long as none of the splinters hit anybody.
“At the end of the day, we have all these officers who suddenly don’t know anything, can’t say anything and we’ve got his wife who has now changed her story.”
Former Sheriff Tim Gobble adamantly opposed Bebb’s decision not to prosecute Queen and publicly expressed disagreement in an article published in the June 15, 2008, edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
"The fact that Bobby Queen served as a DTF agent has no bearing to the filing of charges in this case," Gobble wrote in a letter to the district attorney. "It is my recommendation, along with the unanimous recommendation of my command staff, that Bobby Queen be charged in this case. … The fact that Queen intentionally fired an automatic weapon, while knowing that other law enforcement personnel and innocent citizens were well within the lethal danger zone of the particular deadly weapon he repeatedly fired, does constitute criminal acts. … These actions combined with Queen's statements of intent to commit murder of law enforcement officers did intentionally and knowingly place others in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. Had any of the rounds Queen fired hit a person within the mile or two lethal danger zone of a weapon of this caliber, the consequences would have been devastating and tragic.”
Bebb said Gobble called him from a cruise ship demanding Queen’s arrest.
“But,” Hatchett said, “as much as Tim wanted him prosecuted, Bobby Queen was entitled to the same exact protections as every other citizen.”
Bebb said he and Gobble got past the disagreement long ago and are still friends. As if to prove his point, the district attorney looked at his cellphone and read a text message from Gobble dated Aug. 20 (2012).
“Don’t worry about the news story,” Bebb read from the small screen. “I told them you were a good man, good-hearted and cared tremendously about people, fairness and justice. Of course, they printed none of that which shows the real intent was not to give a balanced story. Hang in there. Your friend, Tim Gobble.”
The DA’s office decided in January against filing charges against former Cleveland Police officer Josh West. West resigned Jan. 6, in the midst of a CPD Internal Affairs investigation. The investigation revealed he used hydrocodone on duty and violated city policy by failing to notify his superiors he was taking the prescribed painkiller. Cleveland Police Chief Wes Snyder said a urine sample willingly provided by West indicated positive for hydrocodone, according to a previous story published Jan. 25 in the Banner.
“He (West) made a statement under Garrity warning,” Hatchett said, explaining that police officers interviewed for violation of departmental rules are warned of their obligation to give statements for internal purposes. Those statements cannot be used against the officer in a criminal proceeding.
“We can’t use anything that’s said in a Garrity statement,” he said. “They found a straw in his car. It appeared that he’d been presumably snorting whatever pills he had, and Wes Snyder sent it up to us.
“You can, if you have a prescription, crush your hydrocodone and snort them. It’s not illegal. I wouldn’t recommend it. It probably burns like the dickens, but you can do it. The bottom line on Josh, as far as proof, he had a pill problem and he had what might have been considered drug paraphernalia in his car. Whether it was drug paraphernalia was an open legal question and one we chose not to get into.”
Hatchett said it was inferred West could have been successfully prosecuted had the DA talked to West’s dealer.
“I’m here to tell you, you are not going to convict a police officer in Bradley County on the testimony of a drug dealer,” he said. “That’s a loser. That’s a loser 10 times out of 10.”
In another case that surfaced about a year ago, Drug Task Force Agent Angie Gibson was allegedly involved in a crash in Monroe County and then fled the scene.
According to Hatchett, Gibson was home when police found her pickup truck. Pseudoephedrine and lithium batteries, ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine, were in the truck. She was apparently seen in a bar a few hours before Madisonville police knocked on her door.
“The truck was stolen or somebody took it — she doesn’t know how it got there,” Hatchett said.
Bebb said Madisonville police could not confirm Gibson was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. She passed a drug test, but refused an alcohol test. But, if she could not be placed behind the wheel, Gibson’s blood alcohol content was of no concern, he explained.
“(DTF Director) Steve Lawson went up there, took her to the hospital and made her take a test for drugs. It came back clean,” Bebb said. “He could force her to take a drug test anytime he wanted to because of changes in the DTF bylaws but he couldn’t make her take an alcohol test.”
Hatchett said, “I couldn’t knock on your door and say, ‘Hi, come with me, you’re taking a blood alcohol test.’”
In another high-profile case, Bebb opted not to prosecute Cleveland Police Chief Wes Snyder at the conclusion of a two-month TBI investigation into the Cleveland Police Department in October 2007. At that time, TBI revealed only that the investigation centered primarily on Snyder and a second unidentified officer, according to a Banner news story.
At that time, Bebb said he requested the investigation into “certain aspects of the Cleveland Police Department” on the complaints of two unidentified lawyers involved in lawsuits against the department.
“Perjury was the original complaint,” Bebb said in the 2007 article. “Other things developed out of those allegations.” One of the “other things” was the question of whether or not the police department works on a point or quota system.
In late December 2007, federal court Judge Curtis Collier dismissed three of six claims against the city of Cleveland and its police department in a civil lawsuit that prompted the investigation in the first place.
Vivian Hardwick filed the lawsuit Jan. 3, 2007, seeking damages for injuries allegedly inflicted under the color of law and in violation of her constitutional rights. She asserted outrageous conduct and intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery. She requested punitive damages of $250,000 for “having suffered grievous injury at the hands of the various defendants.”
Hardwick’s attorney, Franklin Chancey, alleged the police department policy of using a point system improperly motivated Sgt. Christopher Jacques to arrest Hardwick. Also, the suit alleged officers were not properly trained.
The alleged perjury apparently occurred during the interrogatory of Chief Wes Snyder when he was asked about the existence of the point system.
Snyder said during depositions on Aug. 17, 2007, that he believed there was no point system “authorized before, (or) after, by this administration of the city of Cleveland,” but he did not investigate the matter to see if his answer was correct.
Collier stated in a memorandum, “The evidence construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff (Hardwick) establishes that CPD operated a point system that was at least tolerated by the chief of police. Even after the point system was abandoned, a police lieutenant continued using it and Jacques was apparently subject to it at the time Hardwick’s arrest took place. However imprecise and senseless a point system is in evaluating officers, it is not a constitutional violation.”
According to previous Banner articles, court documents indicated the point system was the idea of Echo Team Patrol Unit Commander Lt. John Dailey, who created it in the Fall of 2004 after allegedly noticing some officers were barely performing any work. The point system was designed to encourage officers to do their jobs. Arrests were worth more points than other work, including citations. Dailey began using the system to evaluate his officers and at some point communicated his system to them. Dailey required officers to maintain a certain number of points, and they received a verbal warning if they dropped below the minimum three months in a row.
Collier dismissed claims against the city of Cleveland, Cleveland Police Department and Jacques in his individual capacity; dismissed Cleveland Police Department as a defendant; dismissed Hardwick’s claims under the 14th Amendment; and dismissed Hardwick’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery.
He found ample reason to let the following claims survive: The claim against the city of Cleveland for negligence; the claim against Jacques under the Fourth Amendment based on theories of unlawful entry and excessive force, but not unlawful arrest; and the claim against Jacques under Tennessee law for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery and negligence.
According to the news story, Chancey filed for dismissal of the case on Dec. 21, 2007. At that time, Bebb was unsure if dismissing the federal lawsuit would affect his decision to proceed against Snyder.
During the Wednesday interview, Bebb said he was told that if he asked for a TBI investigation, “… there are officers over there that are dying to tell about the corruption in the Cleveland Police Department,” Bebb said. “I asked for that investigation and none of that transpired. No one over there talked about any sort of corruption. I stood up and apologized for that investigation. I apologized to Wes Snyder and to the rest of the department for that investigation.”
(Next: Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb and Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett will explain the protocol in the processing of cash and property that are seized during drug-related enforcement by the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force.)