REPORT: PREJUDICE, ANGER CAN LEAD TO USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
by Sharon Rondeau
“I came from a place that was totally the opposite,” he told us. “When I first arrived in Tennessee, I was hyper-vigilant on my job because I came from an area where working as a police officer is a red flag.” He then related a specific example:
Where I came from, when you register your vehicle, that plate is attached to that vehicle. So when you run a vehicle’s plate and it comes back as belonging to another vehicle, that’s a high alert. It means that the vehicle was stolen and they swapped the plate. A personal plate usually has something specific written on it, so it’s obvious.
When I got to Tennessee, one of the first nights I was working – it was actually very early in the morning – I was behind a car which was driving suspiciously. I ran the plate, and it came back to a completely different vehicle in a different county. There were some things that didn’t make sense to me. So I made a stop, and I got the guy out of the vehicle, and I was checking everything. I was later advised, “We swap plates around here.”
Everything turned out fine there, and I sent him on his way and finally figured it out. But the point is that they do things differently there. That is an example of the things I started seeing in Tennessee. They take plates and swap them around. They will even do that back and forth. I don’t know that they can legally do that so that they don’t have to register them. But there were a lot of things where I was told, “Yeah, people do that,” that it was common practice, especially in smaller towns.
The first instance where I had exposure to the way the public felt about law enforcement was during an incident involving some people who lived down the street from the police department. They were always involved in arguments and were a couple going through a divorce. One night I was dispatched there because there was a confrontation; the girl was moving out and getting her things together. I was trying to figure out what the problem was to get to the bottom of it to help them. She was not one to cooperate with me; she was being really hateful towards me with a “You-could-care-less-what-we-do” attitude.
I said to her, “I don’t understand why you’re being so negative; I’m here trying to help you, and you’re being very hateful.” She just ignored me. After that, I had another contact with her where she was involved in some kind of dispute. I was talking to her, and she said, “The cops don’t care about us; they never have; none of them do.” I again told her I was there to try to help her, and she said, “You’re not here to try to help me.” She told me, “My parents and grandparents have never liked law enforcement. We don’t trust you guys.” The hatred toward police officers is very aggressive.
I noticed that in the outlying areas, people never called police. They didn’t want police involved in anything; they would rather deal with it themselves.
I learned that a certain police department had a reputation for being very mean with people, using excessive force. I understand situations where force needs to be used, but on a continuous basis, that didn’t need to happen.
The police department I first worked at in Tennessee was very small, and the chief was from out-of-state, so he wasn’t jaded. Most of my contact at that time was with the public, because we were very scattered.
When I went to a bigger department, there was a group that was very negative, and it rubbed off on even the good officers as far as their attitudes toward the public.
I remember one officer who called the people “hobbits.” The perception was that “It’s ‘us’ and it’s ‘them.'” They built a very negative image between the police and the public.
That’s when I started to see racism. It’s not always just a “color” thing, but it divides people. Racially profiling and treating people differently because they aren’t who you are is rampant in Tennessee. There is more I could go into as far as racism with the people in general and the way they talk to their children based on economics. The police already have an exposure to prejudiced thinking, and it makes being fair and impartial difficult.
I happened to get my foot in the door and work my way in, not only with the people, but also with the officers I worked with. They knew I was who I said I was. But I got to see things; I got to hear things…I heard a story about a wealthy rancher who had some illegals working for him, and one of them ended up dying from something really negligent. They covered it up. I remember one of the officers telling me about this and thinking, “What?!!”
I saw it all the way up to district attorneys and the judges. I can see why law enforcement officers are the way they are, because they’re a direct representation of their higher authorities. They’re a reflection of the corruption all the way up. The government is corrupt, and I saw that in my area.
Even during training out of the county, the attitude was pretty strong that “It’s us and them.” They used to send me to Mississippi for training, and I noticed that a lot of the cops in the South have that way of looking at people. It was new to me; I had seen corrupt cops where I came from, but hearing how the Tennessee cops talked about people was completely foreign to me.
There were officers who were dismissed from a department for really bad things, but they were hired by another department and went right back to work.
They keep it all covered up. The state’s investigation team is the TBI, and of course the FBI is in Tennessee, but everything is kept in the state, which breeds corruption. I’ve never been the type to believe that there should be an oversight body of a federal nature, but this concept of allowing states to police themselves and do what they’re doing is coming back to bite us. This is a perfect example. There’s no accountability. Even on the federal level, it’s corrupt. Unless there’s an entity that has no ties to Tennessee which comes in and investigates, nothing is going to happen.
It’s straight out of Hollywood movies: everybody you go to knows the person who did it, and they’re all going to cover it up. Everybody’s involved.
When a district attorney told me to break the law, I told him, “I’m not going to do that.” I was very adamant about it. I didn’t care if it meant sacrificing my career. I didn’t take the job as a police officer to abuse other people and break the law. I believe in morals when it comes to policing. That’s why I was well-liked by the public; they knew I was different. They knew I was going to treat all of them the same. I wasn’t going to let my anger or prejudiced views or anything interfere with how I did my job. I didn’t care who they were. I didn’t even care if they were repeat offenders. If they came in as a victim, I treated them as a victim; I didn’t treat them like, “They deserve what they got.”
I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve dealt with enough people to know that being a police officer takes a certain type of personality…a very aggressive, and what I mean by “aggressive” is a Type “A” personality, because you’re dealing with people who don’t want to go along with the program, and you have to sort-of make them go along with it. But it takes someone who is in control of his aggression to channel it in the right direction. What happens is that you get these types of personalities which have a tendency to be buoyed by the status and power and authority of a police officer, and it feeds on that personality and they lose control of it. Pretty soon, they come to feel they’re above other people. They feel others are lower than they are because they deal with negative people all the time. Unfortunately, that’s how law enforcement is. There are types of people who have control of themselves so that they don’t allow themselves to see things that way. They see people as honest victims and they’re there to help them. I’m not saying all law enforcement is bad. But their lives become policing, and it can ruin their lives, because they’re not in control.
If you take all these things that a police officer is exposed to, and you have a person who already has a disposition of prejudice and anger, it creates a really bad situation. I could see it; it was really clear to me in a couple of areas.
It goes up to the state level. The corruption has infected them to the point where they believe that “We are who we are; they are who they are; we are going to do what we want to do, and there’s nothing they can do about it. We control the masses.”
When I left Tennessee, it was like an insult to them. “You’re moving away from here? You don’t want to go back there; you want to stay here. What are you going to do there?”
I have a friend back there who is a dispatcher, and her father wants her to get out of Tennessee. She’s admitted that it’s like a cult: “You get here, and they won’t let you out.” One of the officers I used to work with told me, “You need to be careful when you get ready to leave, because they’re going to do everything in their power to keep you from getting a job.”
The Post & Email asked the former Tennessee police officer his thoughts on a Channel 5 investigation on “policing for profit” launched in 2011 with numerous follow-up reports revealing that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been seized by Tennessee Highway Patrolmen and sheriff’s deputies from citizens traveling through the state without a warrant or probable cause. Much of the money has never been returned, and it has taken years for some of those victimized to receive return of their funds. During its latest session, the Tennessee legislature debated passing a bill to curtail or prohibit the practice of “civil forfeiture” but failed to come to an agreement after hearing from “law enforcement…who do not want to give up a source of income.”
One installment in the series reported that a canine trained to detect illegal drugs “indicated” on grass in a vehicle, not marijuana or any other drug (second video in the series). The former Tennessee police officer told us:
I had a canine which I used for drug stops. I know the ins and outs of that. Let me tell you something: if that dog indicated on common grass, then there is enough there to go back and find out every arrest that was made deploying that canine. They could have every case thrown out based on that. That’s a major thing. Those dogs are officers; if they make a mistake, they can go back and check all of those cases on which that officer was deployed.
Those dogs will actually analyze through their nose different parts of whatever the substance is, which is made up of different particles. They connect those particles to marijuana. Grass in a cemetery does not have any component of marijuana whatsoever, so there is no way that dog is going to indicate on grass thinking it’s marijuana. There’s no way.
The federal police officer who was stopped in Tennessee on the way home from burying his grandfather told Williams, “They cued that dog.” He also said that he was convinced that the officers were looking for money, not drugs.
When we asked the officer if it is possible to cue a police canine, he responded, without having viewed the Channel 5 video:
Oh, absolutely. Those dogs are trainable. You can give them the command that causes them to indicate on stuff. Of course, that’s highly illegal, but you can train a dog to do anything. You can give them a command that causes the dog to indicate. I had a dog for almost a year, and I know what kind of training they go through, and I never in my career heard of a dog indicating on grass and thinking it was marijuana. They are trainable, and they can be trained by their handler to do all kinds of things.
There are aggressive and passive indications. If it’s an aggressive indication, he’ll scratch. If it’s passive, the dog will sit down and look at that area. Dogs are trainable, so a person can do something to cause them to indicate. It’s easy to do.
For a dog to legitimately indicate on common grass that it’s marijuana could mean that canines aren’t that accurate. That shows a flaw, which means any canine could do that. It would jeopardize every use of a canine for any drug use. So it’s either going to be that – and I don’t think that’s going to be the issue, because there are a lot of cases throughout the country – or it’s going to mean that that person trained that dog to indicate on something, which means that every case that dog ever worked would be gone. There’s a major concern there.
One of the “law enforcers” interviewed by investigative reporter Phil Williams was a former sheriff of Dickson County, TN, which in 2001 carried out a joint raid with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office in two locations, charging five individuals with manufacturing methamphetamine. One of those charged was Timothy Aaron Baxter, whose case The Post & Email began covering several months ago.
Baxter denied being involved in drug manufacturing. After serving an eight-year sentence, in late 2010 he was alleged to have injured a 72-year-old man at a gas station in a road rage incident. However, Baxter told The Post & Email that the man slapped him before he responded in self-defense, the video of which he said was not presented at the trial. A witness in the passenger seat of the elder man’s car also was not called to testify.