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‘Community Oversight Now’ demands overhaul of Metropolitan Nashville Police Department

by PRIDE Newsdesk
2019 protest from ‘Community Oversight Now’ — the group is demanding an overhaul of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department following the release of a whistleblower complaint.

‘Community Oversight Now’ has released the following update in response to the 61-page whistleblower complaint on the Police Department:

Community Oversight Now stands with the Nashville Community Review Board (formerly the Community Oversight Board or COB) and other community advocates in calling attention to allegations of police misconduct and abuses by MNPD.

“As has been widely reported, a retired MNPD lieutenant released a 61-page ‘whistleblower’ complaint alleging systemic abuses in the Nashville police department. These allegations include interfering with and manipulating investigations by internal affairs (officially called the Office of Professional Accountability or OPA); potentially falsifying reports during Kathy Morante’s tenure as OPA director (it’s unclear if she was directly involved in this effort); systemic racial and gender harassment in MNPD; misconduct by Don Aaron, director of the Police Department Media Relations Office; nepotism and rank bias; and MNPD’s outright refusal to implement police reform measures such as the proposals by Mayor John Cooper’s 2020 policing policy commission.

“The complaint, if true, exposes a crisis in MNPD that threatens community safety. It reveals an ‘animal house’ culture that is promoted and protected by MNPD’s most senior, high-ranking officers. For heavily-policed communities (many of them Black, Brown and low-wealth) the whistleblower complaint reveals why they are the regular targets of heavy-handed policing and excessive force, and adversely impacted by rigged investigations of police misconduct.

“The most troubling allegation in the complaint is that high-ranking MNPD officers actively worked with state lawmakers to overturn the Nashville Community Oversight Board that was established by 134,371 voters in a November 2018 referendum. The referendum was established after several high-profile incidents, including the police murders of Black men in North and East Nashville.

The whistleblower alleges: ‘The Metro Nashville Police Department was involved in the process of crafting legislation (SB 0591/HB 0764) to reduce [and eventually eliminate] the Nashville Community Oversight Board’s ability to operate and hold the MNPD accountable.’ According to the complaint, this effort was led by Deputy Chief Chris Gilder and Assistant Chief Mike Hagar with the possible knowledge of Chief of Police John Drake. Allegedly, Chief Gilder was also given a ‘small, laser engraved crystal-style award’ (a trophy) at an OPA meeting for his role in preempting the Community Oversight Board and suppressing the vote of more than 134,000 Nashvillians.

“To summarize, the complaint states that MNPD betrayed the public’s trust and undermined the will of the voters. If true (MNPD has yet to refute the claims) then MNPD was engaged in a frontal attack on democracy and worked with state lawmakers to do so. This attack was particularly harmful to Black voters who mobilized in support of police accountability in 2018. MNPD further used the same power to undercut the COB that far-right state lawmakers used to preempt the authority of Nashville’s Council, Airport Authority, Sports Authority, and Music City Center.

“It’s obvious that MNPD needs a change of course. Mayor Freddie O’Connell hired Edward Stanton III, a former U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Tennessee, to investigate the complaint. Yet, this falls short of what is needed. It is unclear if attorney Stanton has subpoena power. It is unclear if Metro Council supports the investigation considering that most council members have been mute about the whistleblower complaint. Further, Metro Legal was involved in the selection of the investigator even though the law department has been an obstacle to police accountability. It’s also unclear if Metro Legal played a role in working with senior MNPD officers to undermine the COB.

As activists and organizers who have been working on police reform and accountability for more than a decade, we need a major overhaul in MNPD. The following concerns must be addressed immediately:

1) The Mayor must call for an investigation of MNDP abuses by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

2) Chief Chris Gilder, Assistant Chief Mike Hagar, and Don Aaron must be placed on administrative leave until the Stanton investigation is

complete. If the allegations are true and supported by a preponderance of the evidence, then they must resign from MNPD.

3) All officer-involved shootings during Kathy Morante’s tenure as OPA director must be reopened and subjected to external investigators.

4) The Nashville Community Review Board (formerly COB) must be allowed to hire the Brazil Clark law firm as legal counsel. This was tentatively agreed upon to avoid a conflict of interest with Metro Legal, which represents and is closely aligned with MNPD. Currently, Metro Legal is backtracking on this agreement.

5) An external review or investigation of Metro Legal’s role in hindering investigations of police misconduct and oversight is needed.

6) The establishment of a whistleblower complaint system to give MNPD officers a vehicle for reporting misconduct without fear of retaliation.

7) The establishment of a strong MOU organized in good-faith between the CRB and MNPD. Currently, there are nearly 50 police misconduct complaints that are being held up because a new MOU has not been signed. The MOU can only move forward if Mayor Freddie O’Connell takes an active role in bringing all the parties together for extensive negotiations. Police misconduct and oversight is needed.

6)  The establishment of a whistleblower complaint system to give MNPD officers a vehicle for reporting misconduct without fear of retaliation. 

7)  The establishment of a strong MOU organized in good-faith between the CRB and MNPD. Currently, there are nearly 50 police misconduct complaints that are being held up because a new MOU has not been signed. The MOU can only move forward if Mayor Freddie O’Connell takes an active role in bringing all the parties together for extensive negotiations.

“Addressing the concerns raised in the whistleblower complaint must be a top priority for Mayor O’Connell and the Council. The whistleblower allegations indicate that the current state of MNPD’s senior leadership is a threat to community safety and hostile to democratic governance. We need answers immediately and call upon all Nashvillians to make their voices heard.”

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