A due process letter served on Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Kyle Cantwell highlights “dishonest statements” and discoveries of “mishandled evidence” found during an internal investigation. The investigation was launched after discoveries made during the course of a prior inquiry into an Aug. 19 motorcycle pursuit and 18-year-old Justin Thompson’s subsequent fatal crash.
“Negligence,” “incompetence” and “gross misconduct” are just a few of the words THP Col. Mike Walker used in a letter explaining to Cantwell why his termination is warranted.
According to the letter, two days after Thompson’s crash, Sgt. Jarrett Ramsey found an evidence bag of white pills labeled with the name Josh Hash in Cantwell’s driveway. Cantwell also provided Ramsey with a second unlabeled bag of white pills from a box on his porch on that date, telling him both bags belonged to Hash. Cantwell cited Joshua Lee Hash for possession of Lortabs on June 17, 2006, which meant he should have properly logged the evidence on that date.
Cantwell told investigators the bag of pills in the driveway must have come out of his patrol car when Lt. Stephen Street and Sgt. Tommy Boone inventoried the cruiser as part of the ongoing investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation into his pursuit of Thompson, the letter states.
On Oct. 5, 2007, investigators found 51 items of evidence — specifically, drugs and paraphernalia — stored in Cantwell’s locker. He told investigators that Lt. Ed Tate had given him keys to store the items in the locker. Investigators determined the keys were given to Cantwell by Lt. Walter Owenby and that he hadn’t been told to store any type of evidence in the locker, Walker said in the letter.
Investigators also found evidence in a storage area above Cantwell’s desk. Only two items could be tied directly to Cantwell, and he admitted writing labels on the two bags. Cantwell then denied having any more evidence other than a blood kit belonging to a Patricia Michaels, taken after a felony arrest on July 10, stored inappropriately — which was later determined to be untrue. During the inventory of his cruiser, a bag of pills with Michaels’ name on it and a second unlabeled bag of pills were also found, according to Walker.
Browning said the mishandled evidence should have been “processed according to GO (General Order) 546.”
The general orders require all property or evidence to be “placed under the evidence control function” in an officer’s district before the end of each shift, logged into records as soon as possible, and a chain of custody maintained after evidence is acquired, the letter states.
Sullivan County General Sessions Court Clerk Helen Day also provided investigators with a statement outlining Cantwell’s frequent failure to file original citations for prosecution. She told investigators he’s the only trooper they’ve had difficulty with in finding citations he had supposedly filed.
Following are the Department of Human Resources (DHR) policies and Tennessee Department of Safety (TDOS) general orders Cantwell is accused of violating:
• DHR Rule 1120-10-.06 (1): Inefficiency or incompetency in the performance of duties.
• DHR Rule 1120-10-.06 (2): Negligence in the performance of duties.
• DHR Rule 1120-10-.06 (8): Gross misconduct or conduct unbecoming an employee in the state service.
• DHR Rule 1120-10-.06 (16): Possession of unauthorized firearms, lethal weapons, alcohol, or illegal drugs on the job.
• TDOS General Order 216-2: No employee or member shall falsify or intentionally and willfully withhold any material from a statement, or report, written or verbal, made to headquarters or any supervisor.
On Wednesday, Browning corrected an earlier statement and clarified that Cantwell has been on administrative leave with pay since the letter recommending his termination was delivered Jan. 11. On Feb. 8, Cantwell will appeal Walker’s decision.