Sohn: City, police must restore public trust

Staff file photo by Erin O. Smith / Crime scene tape swings in a breeze.

It's bad enough when our Chattanooga Police Department has a cascade of officers accused of sexual assault, rape and other wrongdoing in a span of mere months.

But it is downright horrifying when we also learn that in at least one case of alleged rape, department leaders covered up similar previous incidents - going back to 2015 - leaving the officer in a position to continue abusing the power of his badge again and again.

Times Free Press reporter Mark Pace on Thursday revealed that two now-retired, high-ranking officers may have played a role in covering up years of rape allegations against a younger officer, Desmond Logan.

The decorated officers - retired Assistant Chief Edwin McPherson and retired Capt. Pedro Bacon - and their potential roles in a cover-up are being looked into as part of ongoing rape and possible human rights violations alleged against Logan, who is now under investigation by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the FBI. Logan resigned his police job in January just minutes ahead of a Chattanooga Police Department internal affairs hearing.

Pace's Thursday report states: "Officials believe McPherson and Bacon were involved in the suppression of records and emailed about their attempts to cover up the accusations, sources told the Times Free Press. However, digital footprints and emails that may confirm the allegations have been withheld for months by the city attorney's office because they are part of the ongoing federal investigation and criminal investigation by the sheriff's office, city attorney Phil Noblett said."

The investigations are focused on the alleged rapes of at least three women by Logan between 2015 and 2018. None of the men have been charged, and there are no separate investigations into McPherson or Bacon at this time, sources told Pace.

But the case heated up earlier this month, when one of the alleged rape victims filed a federal human rights violation lawsuit against the City of Chattanooga, arguing that the city "has long-established patterns of overlooking or providing excuses and reasons to justify the misconduct of its officers and civilian employees in order to retain, promote and/or rehire officers."

Let's hope not. But the suit goes on to specify several familiar names and instances, including:

» Police detective Karl Fields who was finally fired for misconduct with a victim of a sexual assault - years after not being fired for making false claims that he was a victim of a carjacking in order to cover up that he wrecked his car while drunk and fired his gun.

» Paul Page, former director of the city's general services, who was not fired despite EEOC findings that he sexually harassed female employees. (The city did, however fire one of the women who complained about him.)

» Even retired assistant chief McPherson - but in a different case from the alleged Logan rapes.

"The city refused to follow the recommendations of its own [Internal Affairs Unit] to discipline now-retired Capt. Edwin McPherson for untruthfulness after the investigators found McPherson took actions to interfere with a murder investigation that involved his niece as a suspect. The city's command 'cleared' McPherson without review by an entity outside of the police department," states the lawsuit.

These examples span many years and occurred under different mayors, different police chiefs, different councils.

But as with many public trust jobs, the investigations of alleged misbehavior and wrongdoings went to different or higher jurisdictions - the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the FBI.

All too often, when we read or hear that those cases are "turned over" to those supposedly impartial entities, we say to ourselves: Great. All will be righted now.

Not necessarily. Clearly, the Logan case, which has languished for nearly a year, should startle us from that daydream. Where are the rape kit results? Where are the sheriff's and FBI reports? Where are either the charges or the findings of 'unfounded?' Where is the accounting for the public trust that each officer and employee we pay - and each official we elect - owes to us?

Once and for all, the Chattanooga Police Department - and the city, Mr. Noblett - need to show us that shifting these cases next door or up the ladder for "ongoing investigation" isn't really just a euphemism for sweeping them under a rug.