In a unanimous vote Wednesday night, the Community Oversight Board (COB) recommended that a commander be suspended for 10 days for his involvement with a botched search warrant last August.
The search warrant concerned a 16-year-old who was under investigation for property crimes. He had moved out of a public housing apartment several months before the execution of the search warrant, and a new family had moved in, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Officer Michael Richardson got the address information from a database that had not been updated since 2018. He also did not take any extra steps to verify that the person police were seeking actually lived at that address, according to MNPD.
Police went to execute the warrant at about 6 a.m. Aug. 18. They knocked but waited only six seconds before prying open the screen door and using a battering ram to breach the front door. A woman could be heard from inside the home asking police to wait. A 15-year-old and a 3-year-old were also in the home at the time.
No one was hurt, Metro Police Chief John Drake said in a news conference after the operation.
Drake ordered an investigation from the Office of Professional Accountability. COB Executive Director Jill Fitcheard initiated an audit of the OPA investigation.
In her report, Fitcheard said that the officers involved in the warrant had not received any formal training about search warrants, nor did their unit have any standard operating procedures. She said the officers reported to Lt. Harrison Dooley rather than a sergeant.
Sgt. Jeff Brown assisted in putting together and executing the warrant and he was the one who pried the storm door off.
The week before the warrant was executed, Dooley was informed that the information in the warrant was “stale.”
Richardson, who drafted the warrant had no experience drafting or planning search warrants, Fitcheard’s report says. He also had three previous disciplinary actions in his file and complaints from previous assignments.
Fitcheard’s report lays blame at commander David Corman of the West Precinct, as reported by News Channel 5, saying he should have vetted the officers and the responsibility to assign them to the unit was solely his.
“The decision to ignore the concerns expressed by previous supervisors, including Sergeant, and bypassing the vetting process demonstrates negligence and incompetence in the performance of his Commander’s duties,” Fitcheard wrote.
While Drake demoted and suspended Dooley and suspended Brown and Richardson, Corman only received formal counseling as discipline.
“I have drafted, served, managed hundreds of search warrants. Hundreds. There is no margin for error in search warrants,” said COB member Mark Wynn, a former MNPD officer. “You cannot make mistakes with search warrants.”
“None of this would have happened if the commander had taken action when he had opportunity to, not once but multiple times,” Fitcheard said.
Fitcheard originally recommended a two-day suspension to a Category E offense. COB members disagreed with this recommendation and Jamel Campbell-Gooch made a motion for a six-day suspension.
COB member Dr. Phyllis Hildreth said she only reluctantly agreed to the motion as she thought about the trauma the family went through. She also pointed out that the lowest ranking employee got the harshest discipline.
“We’re talking about command. We’re talking about command culture. “We’re talking about the rotten fruits of a bitter tree that fell on this woman and her family,” she said.
The motion failed and the COB eventually voted for a 10-day suspension to a Category B offense.
Davie Tucker spoke at the end of the meeting during public comment and said the victim still suffers from the impact of the bungled warrant.
“This is part of the systemic problems that are alive and active in the MNPD right now,” he said.
The COB also looked at other complaints and recommended discipline ranging from a written reprimand for not filing a vehicle hold extension to a four-day suspension for failure to appear in court.
Drake will receive these recommendations and can accept or decline them.
In this special called meeting, the COB also held a public hearing on a recommendation that the MNPD begin reporting soft open-hand force next year. Out of one in-person comment and six emails, only one person did not support the recommendation.
No changes were recommended, and the COB will vote on the recommendation at their next meeting, Oct. 26.