The subjects, two citizens of Mexico, were also allegedly in possession of drug paraphernalia, which was not confiscated.
The incident occurred during an Oct. 28 traffic stop conducted by KPD Officer Bryan Carter. The Times-News learned of the stop and subsequent TBI investigation on Friday after obtaining a copy of a letter sent from Sullivan County District Attorney Greeley Wells to Kingsport Police Chief Gale Osborne.
The TBI has confirmed it investigated Carter’s actions and forwarded its findings to Wells in January. According to the TBI — and Wells’ letter to Osborne — no charges were placed against Carter, as the two subjects are now in Mexico and are not expected to return to Tennessee.
Along with Carter, two other officers were present for the traffic stop, which occurred near mile marker 59 of Interstate 81. A check of KPD records from that day shows no incident report was completed and turned in.
According to Tim Whaley, the city’s public relations director, Carter received three days suspension without pay for the incident and was suspended from working the interstate for 90 days. He was also issued remedial training on the preservation and handling of evidence.
In Wells’ Feb. 17 letter to Osborne, the district attorney called the incident “shoddy police work at best and official misconduct at worst.”
“The upshot of this incident is that the city of Kingsport is $2,675 richer because of the seizure ultimately not being contested for the reason of the bond and attorney fees would have taken up the amount seized,” the letter reads. “Although my office fully supports legal seizure of assets that can be attributed by evidence to illegal drug trafficking, I do not think the city of Kingsport should be making money off of questionable police investigations as was done in this incident.”
Wells was alerted to the traffic stop and seizure of money by Johnson City attorney Don Spurrell. The Mexican citizens had contacted Spurrell, claiming Carter seized approximately $4,500.
According to Wells’ letter to Osborne, Carter provided the two subjects with a State of Tennessee Notice of Property Seizure and Forfeiture indicating the amount of money seized was $2,675.
“The notice did not identify the seizing agency or seizing officer, and from the copy I have seen, does not identify the reason for seizure,” Wells writes in his letter. “In fact when I requested the TBI investigation I had no idea which department was involved.”
The Times-News has attempted to obtain copies of the TBI’s full report. An e-mail response from the TBI reads, “any other details of the case cannot be released without a court order or subpoena due to TBI’s statute regarding confidential files.”
According to Wells’ letter, Carter’s actions would have been presented to the grand jury under the official misconduct statute. As the suspects have returned to Mexico, that is no longer the case.
Attempts Friday to contact Wells and the suspects’ attorney were unsuccessful.
Queries at the KPD into acquiring the TBI report were directed to Osborne, who did not speak with the Times-News. Deputy Chief David Quillin advised that a Freedom of Information Act request would need to be filed with city offices.
Once the request was filed and access was granted, a secretary at the police department advised the city attorney would handle the matter. She said a copy of the TBI’s report would be provided to the Times-News within five days.
According to Wells’ letter, Carter pulled over the suspects’ car for speeding. Though the suspects were allegedly in possession of drug paraphernalia — and did not have a driver’s license — they were charged with no crime.
“Apparently he was even allowed to drive off with the contraband drug paraphernalia,” Wells writes.
Carter entered an Affidavit in Support of a Forfeiture Warrant for the cash in Kingsport General Sessions Court on Nov. 3. Carter described the paraphernalia as pill crushers, marijuana grinders and clear baggies.
Accompanying Carter on October’s stop was Officer Ed Ragsdale. Whaley said Ragsdale confirmed at the scene that $2,675 was seized from the subjects. He was ordered to undergo counseling sessions on the following of proper procedures.
Whaley said the money was found in a sock, and it was seized because neither of the subjects would claim it.
“What we have here is a case of really sloppy work,” Whaley said. “(The driver) should have been charged with driving without a license or booked into jail. That’s the option of the officer.”
Cpl. Tim Horne, whom Whaley made a point to call “one of our stars in terms of his performance,” also stopped at the traffic stop. He was issued a written reprimand for not ensuring all policies were followed and forms completed.
As a result of the incident, the KPD has changed its policy on interstate interdiction. From now on, Whaley said, if a warning is issued it will be in writing.