KPD officer investigated by TBI reprimanded twice before over evidence

Rain Smith • Apr 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A Kingsport police officer recently investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was reprimanded on two previous occasions for improper handling of seized items.

In February 2003, Kingsport Police Department Officer Bryan Carter’s superiors discovered he had not turned in a gun, three ammunition clips and a bottle of Absolut vodka to the evidence unit. The items were seized 11 months prior, in March 2002, while Carter was moonlighting as a security officer at Coconuts nightclub.

And in April 2005, police called Carter at his home because he had failed to turn in money seized during an arrest the previous evening.

For each incident, Carter was suspended for eight hours without pay. He was not placed on probation.

This February, following a TBI investigation of a traffic stop Carter effected on two Mexican citizens in October, Carter was suspended three days without pay. He was also suspended from working the interstate for 90 days and issued remedial training on the preservation and handling of evidence.

During that Interstate 81 stop, $2,675 was seized from the subjects, who were then allowed to drive away despite the fact that neither had a valid driver’s license and they were in possession of drug paraphernalia: a pill crusher, marijuana grinder and clear baggies.

Carter provided the driver a Tennessee Notice of Property Seizure detailing the seizure of $2,675. However, he did not identify himself as the officer effecting the seizure, or even the law enforcement agency. And no incident report on the stop was filed at the police station.

The Mexican citizens contacted Johnson City attorney Don Spurrell, claiming Carter seized about $4,500. According to Sullivan County District Attorney Greeley Wells, who requested that the TBI investigate the October incident, Carter’s actions would have been presented to the grand jury under the official misconduct statute except that the car’s occupants have returned to Mexico and will not return as witnesses.

Kingsport Police Chief Gale Osborne wrote in a February memo to Carter that “I believe we handled this particular case in a very poor manner.” Osborne also noted that Carter had been counseled twice previously on the proper handling of evidence, and has “brought questions as to the integrity and professionalism of the Kingsport Police Department.”

“I will not tolerate this type of sloppy police work in the future,” Osborne wrote.

Carter’s personnel file indicates he was hired as a jailer in 1998 and promoted to police officer in 2001. His first reprimand in regard to handling evidence came in 2003.

According to a KPD memo from April of that year, Capt. Ed Swayze discovered a Smith & Wesson gun, three ammunition clips and bottle of vodka were missing from the evidence unit. All the items had been seized as evidence more than a year earlier in an arrest initiated by Carter.

The memo says Carter was moonlighting at Coconuts nightclub on March 22, 2002. While there he arrested a man for driving while intoxicated, two counts of aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm by an intoxicated person.

City records state that Officer Terry Christian, who was on duty at the time, filled out most of the incident report. The narrative, explaining what happened in the incident, was completed by Carter. Christian then listed the vodka, guns and clips as seized evidence.

However, according to the police memo from 2003, it was about 11 months after the arrest before it was discovered that none of the items had been turned in to the evidence unit. When asked about the items, Carter told his supervisors he obtained a “destruction order” for the evidence. Carter claimed he turned the order into the evidence unit and retained a copy for himself.

“No destruction order has been produced by you or located in the evidence unit,” reads the memo from Mark Addington, chief of Kingsport police at the time.

Carter was suspended eight hours without pay for his handling of the incident. He was also issued a refresher course on “remedial training on the handling of Evidence/Found Property and the Code of Conduct,” according to the memo.

According to a police memo dated June 10, 2005, another disciplinary action against Carter was initiated by complaints from the mother of a man he arrested. The amount of money seized and the reason the suspect was arrested are not addressed in the memo. It states that the suspect was released the following day, but his money had not been entered as evidence.

“There was no record in the evidence unit of the cash having been turned in to the evidence unit,” reads the memo from Chief Addington. “Subsequently, an inquiry with you that morning after being called at home determined that you had, in fact, seized money during the arrest in accordance with state law. However, you had kept the money and other paperwork in your car as opposed to turning it in to the evidence unit before you went home from work.”

The memo states that general orders for filing evidence had been discussed with Carter before; that all paperwork and seized items are to be submitted as evidence at the end of a shift.

“This office recognizes that you have excellent skills in performing your police duties and I appreciate that, however, it is paramount that for the benefit of maintaining your integrity as well as the department’s and criminal justice system as a whole by following the evidence procedures,” Addington wrote. “I strongly urge you to make a better effort in following the rules.”

In this incident, Carter was again suspended eight hours without pay. He was also again ordered to be retrained on the handling of evidence and was “transferred from the Community Policing Unit to a patrol platoon for closer supervision.”

Tim Whaley, the city’s public relations director, said Osborne had no comment on Carter’s previous reprimands, as they were issued under a previous police chief.

The Times-News has attempted to acquire a copy of the TBI’s recent probe of Carter. After learning of his October traffic stop of two Mexican citizens, a request was filed with the city on April 3.

The city has denied that request, claiming that under Tennessee Code, TBI records are confidential. The Times-News has asked its attorney to review the matter.

According to Nashville attorney Frank Gibson, executive director for the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, the city’s stance would be correct only if the incident were still under investigation. Since the case has been closed and no criminal charges are pending, “There’s no need to keep it secret.”

Previous articles:

Kingsport officials awaiting information on TBI report involving officer

TBI investigates Kingsport officer for taking money during traffic stop, letting suspects go free with no charges

District attorney holding Kingsport Police Department to higher standard

Kingsport denies FOIA request for TBI investigation of police officer

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