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Communication Error May Be Putting Officers In Danger

Communication Error May Be Putting Officers In Danger

CREATED Feb 29, 2012

By Ben Hall

Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Metro Police discovered a stunning failure to communicate critical information to officers in the field after NewsChannel 5 Investigates started asking questions.

Our investigation began by looking into a mistake by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that left Metro police Sergeant Mark Chesnut unaware he had just pulled over a dangerous prison escapee.

When Chesnut pulled over a Dodge Magnum on June 25, 2009, he didn't know it was the focus of a nationwide manhunt.

Passenger Joseph Jackson was on the run, after escaping from a Mississippi prison and stealing a guard's gun.

Hours earlier, Mississippi authorities sent an alert to the TBI, called a BOLO, which stands for, be on the lookout. 

The BOLO warned that two men in a Black Dodge Magnum, with Georgia tags were "armed and dangerous." 

But Chesnut never received that warning.

"It was a catastrophic failure of communication," Attorney David Raybin said.

Raybin later represented Chesnut in a lawsuit involving the escape. 

He discovered a dispatcher with the TBI did not send the BOLO to police departments across Tennessee.  She only sent it to the Memphis area - which was a violation of policy.

"This is a life threatening situation of the worst sort, and that officer didn't know it," Raybin said.

The patrol car video from Chesnut's car shows, that while Chesnut ran the tags on the Dodge Magnum, Jackson approached. 

He later shot Chesnut five times with the gun he stole during the escape.

"This failure was right at the doorstep of the TBI," Raybin said.

The TBI later disciplined its dispatcher.

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that months after that tragic shooting Metro Police switched computer systems. 

Suddenly, Metro was not sending those same, critical warnings to its own officers.

Last August, two brothers and their sister shot at an officer in Florida and headed north. 

They robbed a bank in North Georgia and were reportedly spotted in Chattanooga. 

The TBI sent several BOLOs with the make, model and color of the vehicle, urging officers to approach the Dougherty family with caution.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Metro Deputy Police Chief Todd Henry, "Were officers warned about the Dougherty family?"

Deputy Chief Henry responded, "We don't know."

Also last year, Robert Lee Grant, a known violent gang member, escaped from an East Tennessee prison. 

The TBI sent a BOLO to all police departments including Metro, warning he would fire on officers.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is there any sense that BOLO was sent to Metro officers?"

Deputy Chief Henry responded, "No we don't have any record that it was."

And last Spring, two inmates escaped from a Louisiana prison. They were involved in a chase in West Tennessee. 

The TBI bolo warned they were armed and dangerous.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do you know if our officers, here in Metro were warned about them?"

Deputy Chief Henry responded, "I don't know."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that beginning in 2010, Metro officers were not getting out of state bolos on their in car computers.

Dispatchers may have read warnings over the radio, but there are no records of which ones.

"We dropped the ball," Deputy Chief Henry said.

The problem involved a mix-up between police and the Emergency Communications Center.

"We thought they were sending them to the mobile data computers. They thought we were sending them to the mobile data computers, so in essence, no one was sending them," Deputy Chief Henry said.

This critical communications breakdown went on for months.

"We're talking 18 to 24 months," Deputy Chief Henry said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates responded, "Almost two years."

"Correct," Henry said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "How concerned are you about that?"

"I'm very concerned," Henry said.

David Raybin was shocked no other officers were hurt.

"I'm amazed that for two years this went on and nobody recognized that there was a problem," Raybin said.

He continued, "I think it's a healthy thing that the media, your station, looked into this.

Metro police are now sending BOLOs to all in-car computers.   

The challenge is not to overwhelm officers with thousands of warnings.

Metro never wants another officer unaware who he's dealing with.

Email: bhall@newschannel5.com

More stories and documents:
NewsChannel 5 Investigates: UCDD

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