On July 18, Chattanooga Police Officer Karl Fields sent a message to the alleged victim of a rape he was investigating.
"I stare at your a," he said, according to text messages provided to the Times Free Press.
The woman did not respond.
"I stare at your pretty face."
"I stare at your eyes."
"I stare at your sexy lips."
"Oh and your pretty black hair."
Fields sent these texts and others like them to the woman from June 24 through Aug. 7. After attorney Cris Helton provided a copy of the communications to the district attorney's office on Thursday, the Chattanooga Police Department launched an internal affairs investigation into Fields.
On Friday, a second person raised questions about Fields' professional conduct during an investigation, and a close look at Fields' 11-year career with the department reveals that attorneys, supervisors and citizens have raised concerns about his work and behavior.
Defense attorneys in two pending criminal cases claim that Fields ignored evidence in one investigation and may have mixed up DNA samples in another. And police department documents show the internal affairs division has investigated Fields four other times since 2004, for allegations ranging from driving drunk to undermining his boss's authority, though sufficient cause for disciplinary action was found in only one instance.
After reading about the most recent allegations against Fields, the father of a Chattanooga homicide victim opened up about his own experience with the officer. Gary Taylor said Fields targeted him while investigating his son's death.
"This man took me through hell," Taylor said.
The dispute began in July 2010 when someone shot and killed 28-year-old Antonio Taylor in his Juandale Trail home. Fields was the lead investigator, but Gary Taylor almost immediately felt that the officer was mishandling the investigation. He said Fields didn't talk to some of his son's neighbors and failed to collect all the bullet casings at the crime scene.
Fields made Gary Taylor uncomfortable, especially when the officer talked with Taylor's ex-wife, Antonio's mother. Taylor thought Fields was flirting with her.
"I was like, 'This man is weird,'" Taylor said. "You could just tell his intention wasn't to find a killer.
"His intention was to get in someone's pants."
Taylor, who lives in Atlanta, said he asked police administrators to appoint a new investigator to his son's homicide case, but nothing happened. He said he called the mayor's office and the district attorney to express concerns. Still nothing. He confronted Fields about the flirtatious attitude toward his ex-wife.
And then, Fields filed a criminal charge of harassment against Taylor, alleging that Taylor texted him so much that Fields did not have time to do his job. Fields accused Taylor of sending threatening and racial texts and faxes.
When he learned about the warrant in December 2012, Taylor turned himself in. The arrest kicked off a months-long legal battle.
By Jan. 28, 2014, documents given to the Times Free Press show, prosecutors still had not provided Taylor's defense attorney with any phone logs, recordings or other proof of harassing calls, despite a hand-delivered request for the information five months earlier.
This July, prosecutors dismissed the harassment charge. Taylor's record was expunged.
"He tried to hush me up by filing these bogus charges against me," Taylor said.
He is relieved to see the new allegations against Fields come to light.
"He can't hide," Taylor said. "This man is a ticking time bomb."
He has sent a complaint to the internal affairs department and is considering filing a civil lawsuit. He hopes - with the expungement letter in hand - that he can start to move on, although police have not caught his son's killer.
"As a family going through this, we haven't really had a chance to grieve, because we've been fighting Chattanooga police and Fields for this whole time," he said.
Police records show that internal affairs has investigated Fields four times since 2004. Only one investigation - when Fields crashed his car while driving drunk in 2006 - resulted in disciplinary action. He was suspended without pay for 14 days.
Police department officials placed Fields on administrative leave Thursday after they learned about the text messages supposedly between the officer and the alleged rape victim. Fields will be assigned to office tasks rather than crime investigation during the investigation.
Fields did not respond to emails Friday seeking comment for this article. But Police Chief Fred Fletcher said the department takes the new allegations seriously.
"Employee misconduct of any type will not be tolerated by me or the police department," he said. "And these allegations are particularly egregious. We will investigate them thoroughly and robustly."
Meanwhile, defense attorneys in at least two violent crime cases have recently questioned Fields' investigative techniques.
In July 2011, Chattanooga police arrested Cordalro Strickland on a charge of first-degree murder. Officers say he walked up to Melvin Fennell in front of Fennell's Arlington Avenue home and shot him three times. Fennell bled to death.
Strickland's defense attorney argued in a pretrial motion that the strongest evidence in the case is Strickland's blood, supposedly found at the scene of the crime. But according to the motion, Fields and another officer at the scene don't remember where they found Strickland's blood. The attorney also says there is no evidence that Fennell's killer ever bled on the night of the shooting.
According to the motion, Chattanooga police investigated a separate death around the same time. This death happened to occur at 1912 Robbins St., the home of Strickland's grandmother. His attorney says Fields - the lead investigator - may have gotten evidence from the two scenes confused.
"A mistake may have been made in the handling of various DNA samples," John Cavett, Strickland's former attorney, wrote in a motion to stop prosecutors from using that evidence in a trial.
Strickland is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County Criminal Court on Monday with his new attorney, Brandy Spurgin, who argues the same points. They are still waiting for Judge Don Poole to rule on this motion.
Attorneys for another accused violent criminal also say charges should be dismissed because of how Fields handled a crime scene. Chattanooga police charged Cornelius Douglas with attempted first-degree murder after they say he shot D'Andray Thomas in May 2013 in front of a house on Judson Lane.
When police arrived, they found six guns inside a trash can next to the back door of the house. They collected the guns as evidence. One was a .380 pistol - the type of gun used to shoot Thomas. Instead of sending those guns to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to determine whether they matched the bullet casings found at the crime scene, police returned the guns to their owners.
When investigators found Douglas, he was carrying a .380 pistol in his right pocket. But the TBI's tests on that gun could not conclusively show it was the weapon used in the attack.
Now, Douglas' attorneys say the case should be dismissed because the police failed to maintain evidence that could have exonerated him. They say somebody else could have fired that other .380 pistol at Thomas that night, then tossed it in the trash can.
Douglas is due in court for a pretrial hearing Tuesday.
Fields, the lead investigator on that case, said during a hearing last month that there was no need for investigators to keep the guns found next to the crime scene.
"We didn't have any indication that they were part of the same crime," he said.
Fields pointed out that police retrieved the untested .380 pistol and sent it to the TBI about a month ago - more than a year after the shooting. He said he doesn't know what happened with that gun during the time in between.
During the hearing in August, Fields at first said losing that gun was not a big deal. Lee Davis, Douglas' attorney, rebuffed him.
"You have six weapons in the trash can at the back door," Davis said, "and they have been taken out of evidence?"
"Yes sir," Fields replied.
"This is a mistake, right?"
"This is a mistake," Fields said. "Yes sir."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6525. Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at email@example.com or at 423-757-6476.