District attorney holding Kingsport Police Department to higher standard

Rain Smith • Apr 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

District Attorney Greeley Wells - the chief law enforcement official of Sullivan County - says he demands higher professional standards than were displayed in an October traffic stop by Kingsport Police.

In that I-81 stop, which the Times-News reported on Friday, a Kingsport officer seized $2,675 from two Mexican citizens. Though they were driving without a license and possessing drug paraphernalia, Officer Bryan Carter allowed the duo to drive away without placing charges against them.

Carter provided the subjects with a Tennessee Notice of Property Seizure, indicating money had been seized. However, the paper did not identify the officer or agency.

A check of police records from that day, Oct. 28, also shows no incident report was filed at the Kingsport Police Department.

Wells says he is disappointed in how the entire incident was handled, and has been told such errors won't occur again.

"It was not just shoddy paperwork as far as I'm concerned," Wells told the Times-News on Tuesday. "There might be some people who take that position, but I expect better from the police officers of this county. I just don't expect better, I demand better from the police officers in this county."

After being contacted by Johnson City attorney Don Spurrell, Wells requested a TBI investigation into the stop. The Mexican citizens had conferred with Spurrell, claiming Carter had seized approximately $4,500; not the $2,675 Carter cited in the incomplete seizure notice.

On Tuesday, Wells frequently referred back to his February letter to Kingsport Police Chief Gale Osborne. Wells says that letter -- which calls the incident “shoddy police work at best and official misconduct at worst” -- adequately sums up his opinions on the incident.

On Friday the Times-News obtained a copy of that letter, and learned of the traffic stop and TBI investigation.

“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 writes to Chief Osborne.

Wells' letter also states that Carter’s actions would have been presented to the grand jury under the official misconduct statute. But since the suspects have returned to Mexico, that is no longer the case.

"Assuming that there were charges preferred by the grand jury, (the Mexican citizens) would be necessary witnesses," Wells said on Tuesday. "If they're not available there's not reason to try and do anymore with it."

According to Tim Whaley, Kingsport's public relations director, Carter was reprimanded for the incident with three days suspension without pay. He was also suspended from working the interstate for 90 days, issued remedial training on the preservation and handling of evidence.

Wells says his letter to Kingsport's Police Chief did solicit a response.

"I was assured that what occurred was not policy in the Kingsport Police Department," Wells said on Tuesday. "And I was advised of actions taken against Officer Carter. Disciplinary action is certainly up to the city of Kingsport as far as what they do. I have no complaints about it."

Two other Kingsport Police Officers participated in the traffic stop in question, and were disciplined to a lesser extent than Carter.

Officer Ed Ragsdale was ordered to undergo counseling sessions on the following of proper procedures. Cpl. Tim Horne was issued a written reprimand for not ensuring all policies were followed and forms completed.

“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."

CLICK HERE for the first report on the incident and TBI investigation.

While his actions in October have come under scrutiny, Officer Carter was recently awarded the Medal of Merit for his life-saving actions in the field.

On Jan. 8, Carter was one of three officers who responded to a home fire at 2141 Heatherly Road. One of the residents was wheelchair bound, and his family was unable to lift him into the chair and from the residence.

Carter, along with officers Micah Johnson and Darrell Johnson, entered the home. They lifted the man into his wheelchair and safely removed him from the blaze.

As a result, Carter and the other officers were presented the Medal of Merit by Chief Osborne.

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