An outside investigation commissioned by Red Bank provided more than enough Fourth Amendment fodder to fire a police corporal and suspend two other officers, according to City Manager Chris Dorsey.
On Monday, Dorsey terminated Cpl. Rebecca Chauncey for allowing a bail bondsman to force his way into an elderly couple's home as he looked for someone who missed a court date -- all without a search warrant, consent or life-or-death circumstances.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable" searches and requires signed warrants supported by probable cause.
"[Chauncey] stated that [bondsmen] have more authority than she does, that they don't have to have a warrant," according to an investigation conducted by Tellico Resolution Group.
The report acknowledges that bounty hunters work under different regulations, but those regulations "never authorize a police officer ... to ignore constitutional law."
For their roles in the same incident, Officer Bradley Hanon and Officer Eric Massengale were suspended without pay for 30 calendar days.
In August, Chauncey and Hanon filed separate $1.5 million lawsuits against Red Bank alleging misconduct by their superiors. Both have said Dorsey used the bondsman incident as an excuse to retaliate, a charge the city manager denied again Monday.
Before the Nov. 16 search, a bondsman told the officers about a search warrant, according to the report.
"Officer Massengale stated he recalled the word 'warrant' being mentioned, but that he didn't see one nor check if there was one," the report states.
"Bondsmen have more leeway when it comes to executing warrants since they have a monetary interest in the person," Hanon told investigators.
But while Dorsey and the investigators blame the officers, Chauncey faults the city's police leadership for never teaching her about chain of command as it relates to bounty hunters.
"There's nothing at the Red Bank Police Department about how to deal with other agencies and bondsmen," Chauncey said. "I'm a supervisor, and I haven't had any training."
In her lawsuit, Chauncey criticized getting training from her supervisors for a previous policy infraction.
After the officers and two bondsmen gained entry into Lloyd and Odalie Gray's 113 Greenleaf St. home -- the couple were at a church function as the search occurred -- Chauncey asked Red Bank Fire Department personnel to break open a door blocked by guns and ammunition, the report states.
"[You] did not question the concept of Red Bank Fire Department personnel being placed in an apparent situation of grave danger when you ... thought that an armed person was barricaded behind the door," Dorsey's suspension letter to Hanon and Massengale states.
As part of the report's conclusion, the investigators scold the officers for allowing bondsmen "to have greater authority than them when they are present representing themselves as police officers."
But when investigators asked Chauncey whether she thought about questioning the bondsman, she replied that "everything happened so quickly."
She and Hanon plan to appeal Dorsey's decision "all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court," according to a text message sent by Hanon.
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at email@example.com or 423-757-6610.