TBI investigates police officer's contact with rape victim; previous cases under scrutiny

INVESTIGATIONS INTO OFFICER FIELDS• 2004: Officer-involved shooting. Finding: Justified. Discipline: None.• 2006: Conduct unbecoming a law enforcement officer. Finding: Sustained. Discipline: 14-day unpaid suspension.• 2013: Citizen complaint. Finding: Unfounded. Discipline: None.• May 2014: Insubordination. Finding: Still pending. This is an active investigation.• Sept. 2014: Conduct unbecoming of a law enforcement officer. Finding: Still pending. This is an active investigation.Source: Chattanooga Police Department Internal Affairs

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will decide whether a Chattanooga police officer broke the law when he contacted the victim of a rape he was investigating this summer.

The woman says that Officer Karl Fields sexually harassed her, and Police Chief Fred Fletcher said Tuesday that the department will review the officer's cases to see if they contain similar allegations. District Attorney Neal Pinkston asked the TBI on Monday to open a criminal investigation into Fields, a detective in the major crimes division.

Last week, an attorney for the woman gave Pinkston copies of text messages allegedly between Fields and the rape victim from June through August, when Fields was the lead investigator in the woman's case. The messages show a man who identified himself as Fields making sexual advances toward the woman.

In one series of text messages given to the Times Free Press, he tells her he just finished masturbating and asks if she would like to join him. The woman did not respond. She says she never had sex with Fields, despite his persistent advances.

On Tuesday, Fletcher said he wanted an agency outside of the police department to handle the investigation.

"It was to make sure we maintain the integrity of the investigation, avoid the appearance of any investigative impropriety, avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest and to make sure that the most thorough, timely and complete investigation could be completed," Fletcher said.

Although the police department's internal affairs division has examined Fields' conduct five times since 2004, this is the first time an outside agency will conduct a criminal investigation into his work.

Meanwhile, new details from past internal affairs investigations shed light on Fields' behavior. The department suspended the officer without pay for 14 days in 2006 after he crashed his Jeep Cherokee while driving drunk.

After the crash, Fields called police and said two men had stolen his car, according to the internal affairs report. When officers arrived, they realized Fields was drunk. They also found his vehicle, damaged from the crash.

A man who rode with Fields that night said the officer fired his pistol multiple times while behind the wheel, although police never found a gun after the crash.

As an officer drove him to jail, Fields hinted several times that he was high.

"What if I tested hot for copious amounts of cocaine?" he asked the arresting officer, according to police records.

The internal affairs investigation eventually cleared Fields of the drug allegations, although the department disciplined him for unbecoming conduct and for breaking the law.

Fields pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.

In 2013, the mother of Cordalro Strickland accused Fields of framing her son for murder. An internal affairs investigation concluded that those allegations are unfounded.

Strickland's attorney, Brandy Spurgin, has since raised other questions about the case. In a pretrial motion to dismiss DNA evidence, Strickland's previous lawyers argued that Fields, the lead investigator, mixed up evidence from different crime scenes. Strickland's next hearing in that case is Sept. 22.

Fields, who has not responded to requests for comment, is on administrative leave.

photo Chattanooga Police Department detective Karl Fields

Gary Taylor, the father of a Chattanooga homicide victim who says Fields charge filed a criminal charge against him without basis while investigating his son's death, says he is glad the TBI is involved.

"He needs to be held accountable for his actions," Taylor said. "That's more important than anything. I'm so glad the young lady had the courage to put [the allegations] out there. Because now there will be a snowball effect with people coming forward."

Fletcher said other Chattanooga police investigators now are handling Fields' cases. The chief also will assign someone to go through a sample of Fields' earlier cases to check for problems such as those with Taylor and the rape victim.

Going forward, Fletcher said, he wants to create a system to periodically review all officers' conduct. He wants other people -- perhaps Chattanooga police employees, perhaps investigators from outside agencies -- to see if officers are treating people fairly.

"We believe a quality control function is very important," Fletcher said, "and these allegations highlight the need for quality control or audit in this specific case."

Defense attorneys in current cases also question Fields' conduct. On Tuesday afternoon, Lee Davis asked Judge Don Poole to lower the bond for Davis' client, Cornelius Douglas, who is accused of attempted murder.

Douglas supposedly shot a man outside a house on Judson Lane last year. But the victim later said he didn't know who shot him, and Davis has raised doubts about Fields' investigation. The police found six guns in a trash can next to the crime scene, including one that matched the type of weapon used to shoot the victim.

Instead of testing those guns, the police gave them back. Fields has since said this was a mistake. He doesn't know why the police didn't test them.

Because Fields is now under investigation, Davis asked Poole to lower Douglas' bond, which is set at $500,000. The jury trial is supposed to happen Oct. 28, but Davis said this could be delayed for months, until the TBI finishes investigating Fields, the lead detective on the case.

"Your honor," Davis said to Poole, "you've been around longer than I have, and I have been around for more than 20 years. There is no way in the world the DA's office is going to be ready for trial with Karl Fields as the lead investigator."

TBI officials have not said when they expect to finish the investigation.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com. Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.