Cooper: Policing the police

Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy did not have access to previous reports on the behavior of a former officer because the information is alleged to have been removed from files.

It's no secret that every profession has its nefarious characters, but when they're in the police department it cuts a little deeper because the police necessarily affect all of us.

We depend on the police to protect our homes, keep us safe and round up the bad guys. When they're the bad guys, it makes us all feel a little less safe.

The Chattanooga Police Department (CPD), which by late February had six officers known to be disciplined in 2019, now may be looking at something a little more worrisome. An 11-month investigation by the Times Free Press has learned probes into a former CPD officer's conduct have revealed two now-retired, high-ranking officers may have played a role in covering up rape allegations against the first officer.

The first former officer, Desmond Logan, is the source of investigations by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department and the FBI. He also had been the subject of an internal affairs investigation by the CPD.

Various officers and other officials told the newspaper the other two officers, retired Assistant Police Chief Edwin McPherson and retired Capt. Pedro Bacon, were involved in trying to suppress accusations of rape against Logan as far back as 2015.

Former CPD Chief Fred Fletcher and current Chief David Roddy, according to one of the sources, did not learn of the initial rape allegations against Logan because of the actions of the other two officers. A digital trail, the source said, exists of the officers' action.

Any digital trail that could confirm the allegations, though, is being withheld by the city's attorney's office because it is part of current investigations.

Although an officer has said Logan's alleged aberrant behavior was common knowledge within the department, Roddy has said he was unaware of any allegations against Logan until a June 2018 incident, which sparked the investigations. Similarly, Logan's internal affairs file shows no record of such behavior before last year.

However, an accusation of rape was made against him in 2015, shortly after being employed by the CPD, and was entered into a police department system. But it was later removed to keep police brass from learning about it, sources told the newspaper.

In the ensuing years, two additional women claimed to have been raped by Logan, and both claimed to have told the CPD about it. A third alleged victim also told the law firm representing the first two women of rape allegations against an officer.

In addition, Logan was not retained for work by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga police department in 2016 because of misconduct against a woman. The information apparently was not passed along to the CPD, and the officer later was referred to as "a term employee who didn't meet our standards."

McPherson, at the time, was the point of contact for CPD officers who did additional work for UTC. The former CPD assistant chief, who retired in 2018, is now employed by the university.

The former assistant chief, who was a finalist in 2017 along with Roddy for the job Roddy now holds, was accused of misconduct in a 2012 case involving his niece that included the death of a man. She was believed to have set up a gang-related robbery that led to the death, but the officer's actions prompted defense attorneys to file a motion to dismiss the case. Although he was recommended for discipline in the incident by internal affairs investigators, the department's then-chiefs overturned the decision.

McPherson and Bacon retired together in 2018.

When reached by the newspaper, Bacon denied any knowledge of a cover-up, and McPherson said he was "not obligated to talk about it" and had nothing to say. They have not been charged with any crime.

The probe involving Logan, who is black, and the two black former officers suspected of helping cover up his actions, and allegations of police beatings and brutality, often pointing to white officers on black suspects, do not enhance the department's reputation. And yet we have no doubt - and the public should have no doubt - that the great majority of police personnel simply want to keep the peace. They can have no greater mission, and it is to their credit that they do it.

In the end, a police department is only as good as its officers. If any officer is taking action he or she knows to be wrong, be it using excessive force, taking advantage of a suspect or covering up for another officer, especially if they are doing it without being seen, we are all a little less safe.

And in those cases, even the presence of the newly created citizen oversight board for the department won't help. Because what its members don't know can't help anyone.