Four former Oak Ridge police officers have asked the City Council to investigate some of the concerns recently raised about the Police Department and its chief, or to hear the concerns of officers.
The officers were responding to recent news reports about the police department and concerns raised about its turnover rate, as well as alleged policy violations included in a mid-January grievance filed by former Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Christopher Bayless. A few also cited letters written to the media by former Police Chief David Beams and former Lieutenant Jack Mansfield.
The officers expressed a range of concerns that include the alleged policy violations by Police Chief Jim Akagi and a Blount County order of protection in effect from April 2012 to June 2013, questions about the turnover rate and the chief’s leadership, and decisions about promotions, spending, and weapons.
Some have used a variety of unflattering adjectives to describe the chief’s personality, and several cited the report of a former captain summoned to Memphis for what they described as a humiliating 10-minute “chewing out” by the chief.
Former officer Chris Carden, who served from November 2007 to September 2014, said there will always be “some sort of controversy” in any agency or place of government.
But he asked the Oak Ridge City Council to investigate because, among other things, he thinks hasty decisions have cost the city unnecessary money, and he said some officers and employees have been treated unfairly and with hostility. Carden also expressed concern about the turnover rate and promotions in the police department.
“As for my opinions on what should happen, I believe it lies in your hands,” Carden told Council in a February 1 letter. “The ones elected by the citizens to make sure the truth is found and the right thing is done.”
The City Council will consider dueling resolutions on the topic during its Monday night meeting.
The first, requested by Council member Trina Baughn, would open an investigation into the police chief, including the allegations raised by Bayless, and the concerns raised by Beams, Mansfield, and someone who has written to City Council under the pseudonym “Bobby Hill.”
It would also investigate the relationship between Akagi and Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson before the police chief was hired and determine whether Akagi violated the order of protection, which was issued in Blount County in April 2012 and dismissed in June 2013.
Watson has said he and the chief didn’t know each other before Akagi was hired, and it’s not an issue.
The police chief’s attorney, Tasha Blakney, said Akagi was not prohibited from carrying a firearm.
“There was never an order of protection entered against him that would carry those consequences of not carrying a firearm,” Blakney said.
She said the chief denies that he has been engaged in any wrongdoing, and she doesn’t see any reason for an investigation. But the chief will respond to whatever the City Council requires of him, Blakney said.
Prior to Baughn’s request for a City Council investigation, Watson had said he has confidence in Akagi and did not plan a further investigation.
The second resolution to be considered Monday, which was requested by Council member Charlie Hensley, would reprimand Baughn, remove her from all committee assignments, and ask her to stop “premature release of biased and negatively spun information” before it’s been verified and discussed by the entire Council.
Former ORPD Sergeant Philip Nall, who retired roughly two years ago, said he can attest to many of the issues “brought to light” by Beams and Mansfield, who has also requested an investigation, as well as some of the issues identified by Bayless.
“I hope that enough of you will join in Ms. Baughn’s efforts to get to the bottom of some of these matters,” Nall said in a January 30 letter to Council.
Beams, who retired in March 2011, said he’s received countless reports of Akagi’s “erratic, irrational, and vindictive behavior,” and “heard about his fits, cursing officers and supervisors, throwing things, and vindictiveness when he is offended.”
By themselves, Nall said, the issues might not seem significant, but combined, “They are devastating to the city and ORPD.”
“An investigation can say two things,” he said. “First, that there is nothing to hide. Second, there may be something here. Lack of an investigation says I don’t care.”
For his part, Akagi said he was surprised by Beams’ comments and disagreed with them, but he would be willing to sit down with the former chief to discuss his grievances. Akagi said Beams had not previously raised the concerns with him.
It’s not clear which resolution, if either, the Council might support. Either one would require a second for discussion and four votes to be approved.
Besides Hensley, a few other Council members have also expressed concern about the process used by Baughn, and one member, Kelly Callison, said last week that he might propose an alternative to the resolutions proposed by Baughn and Hensley.
Although he didn’t directly ask for an investigation, former Officer Randy Myers did ask the City Council to consider listening to officers’ concerns.
“Even if, in your eyes, there is no basis for their concerns, they are crying out for a reason,” Myers said. “What is that reason? Who will hear their cry?”
More information will be added as it becomes available.