Collegedale, Tennessee, residents packed City Hall Monday evening to share their concerns and hear from commissioners about the recent shakeups at the city's police department and ongoing Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into an alleged traffic quota system.
Three Collegedale police officers were fired earlier this month, allegedly for cooperating with the TBI's investigation, their attorney has said. In the officers' disciplinary files, the city states they were terminated for "conduct unbecoming of an officer." But what that alleged conduct actually was is not clarified.
The last entry in each officer's disciplinary file, which is separate from their personnel file, is a lengthy reprimand for allegedly not checking on houses that were on the department's "watch list" and a directive for remedial counseling. That entry was logged three months after the directive to check the houses twice instead of once per shift, and each officer rebutted the complaint.
A "watch list" is a list of houses under surveillance either for suspicious activity or because the resident asked for police to check on it while they were out of town.
"What we want to hear tonight are facts, not hearsay," Mayor Katie Lamb said Monday night before opening the floor to citizens.
Each citizen was given three minutes to address the commission. Several spoke, many in support of the city and its administrators and others who were more suspicious of the goings-on and even some who were concerned for their safety and job security.
The general consensus, though, was a group of people who are proud of and hopeful for their city — hopeful that the facts will be heard and "justice will prevail."
One of the first citizens who spokes was Matthew Sadler. His wife, Tonya, is the city court clerk.
"I'm speaking here this evening despite the best advice given to me by my mom," he said. "She said, 'If you go ahead and talk, they'll probably end up firing Tonya.' But I can't turn a blind eye to what's going on here."
He detailed an incident in which he, his wife and Commissioner Ethan White were at The Commons park, located next to city hall, when the park's manager told them that "three different iPads" were watching them via surveillance cameras and "[they] all needed to leave."
The manager later clarified that he did tell the group that they couldn't be seen with him. He said it was because he didn't "want to be on camera videotaped talking to everybody because it could look like I'm an instigator or a problem maker or something."
Tonya Sadler also spoke. She prefaced her address by citing state law that she says protects her, because, she said, the last time she voiced concerns at a commission meeting, "I was approached by two commissioners, I was taken into a meeting afterwards and questioned about 'What that was about?'"
"You're not going to hear about hearsay," she said. "You're going to hear about facts."
"I have concerns that everyone is acting like we're in a happy cartoon this week around City Hall," she said. "But we should be asking questions about what's going on after three TBI agents spent nearly six hours in the building with a search warrant on August 28."
The TBI has been investigating the traffic quota allegation since July.
Tonya Saddler went on to say her staff found a recording device in their office, and that after her husband filed an open records request, she was denied a seat at the commission's workshop meeting.
"When I questioned the city recorder why, she said she was just following orders," she said.
Another citizen, Danielle Darling, spoke up. She's lived in the area since 2003, she said.
"I love living here However, I don't love everything. And while I want to applaud when we have done right, I think there's room to improve," she said.
She pointed to the number of officers who have either resigned or been terminated — 42% of the force since Jan. 1.
"I'm sorry, but that's fish fish," she said. "And it stinks. And it stinks bad. I'm not saying we've done everything well. But we need to look close to make sure that we're not really screwing up."
"I want to ask that we do the right thing and look into this," she said. " ... We all know how many tickets you give out. And there's a lot. We've been joking about y'all having quotas for years."
Others were more supportive of elected officials and administrators.
Laura O'Daniel, a city employee and a police officer's wife, said she fell in love with Collegedale.
"Before I was able to become employed here, I knew somebody who's doing something right," she said. ... "I've had more positive experiences in the last few months than I did in the last five years of my last job."
She then asked any officers who cooperated with the TBI and who were still employed to stand up. Three officers stood up.
O'Daniel protested that the issue has been "tried in the media" and asked to let the TBI complete its investigation first.
"Let's stop trashing Collegedale and throwing them to the media," she said.
Lamb echoed O'Daniel's comments, as did at least two other commissioners.
She said she wasn't "willing to entertain any kind of action" to vote on until she receives a report from the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service, which is conducting an assessment of the city's policies and operations, as well as a report from the TBI.
However, "absent a court order or subpoena," the TBI's case files are confidential, according to TBI spokesman Josh DeVine. The only exception comes in the case of fatal officer-involved shootings, which, by law, become public "at the conclusion of the prosecutorial function."
Any investigative files procured by the TBI will be turned over directly to the Hamilton County district attorney, who will ultimately decide whether he will present the case to a grand jury for indictment.
At the point of indictment is when a defendant would "presumably have access to the TBI case file during the discovery process."
Commissioners also spoke, most of whom reiterated Lamb's desire to have the TBI and MTAS reports before making any decisions.
Once the meeting was adjourned, all commissioners went into an executive session. It wasn't clear what would be discussed, but Lamb did cite the ongoing litigation brought by three former police officers.
The executive session decision was made despite calls from both citizens and Commissioner White not to have the meeting behind closed doors.
"Please, if you say that this is the city that does everything transparently, do the people's business in front of the people," Tonya Sadler said. "Do not go into an executive session and hide between 4 walls and decide it there. Let the people see what you decide. Let us hear."