Note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m.
Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi denies any wrongdoing related to the concerns publicly raised in the past two weeks about the Police Department and his leadership, attorney Tasha Blakney said.
“The chief denies that he has been engaged in any wrongdoing at all,” said Blakney, who represents the chief. “Based on my review, I don’t see any reason for an investigation.”
But Akagi will respect the decision of the City Council, assuming the proper process is followed, and he will cooperate with the Council’s decision, Blakney said.
“The chief will respond to whatever City Council requires of him,” she said.
The investigation has been requested by Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn. It’s on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom.
Baughn has asked for an investigation into alleged policy violations and claims raised in a grievance filed by former Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Christopher Bayless, letters from former Police Chief David Beams and Lieutenant Jack Mansfield, and emails from someone using the pseudonym “Bobby Hill.”
She also wants the City Council to investigate the relationship between Akagi and City Manager Mark Watson before Akagi was hired in Oak Ridge and determine whether the police chief violated a temporary order of protection issued in Blount County Circuit Court in April 2012 and dismissed in June 2013. The investigation could be used to determine whether Akagi violated a directive to not possess a firearm.
Blakney declined to comment on some the allegations and issues raised by Baughn in her request for an investigation, including the order of protection.
But she did address one issue raised by Baughn, the question of whether Akagi violated a directive to not possess a firearm.
“There was never any prohibition on Chief Akagi carrying a firearm,” Blakney said. “There was never an order of protection entered against him that would carry those consequences of not carrying a firearm.”
The Blount County Circuit Court said there was an agreed order dismissing a petition filed by Akagi’s ex-wife Kristie Michelle Akagi and a temporary order of protection. Those were issued in April 2012 and dismissed in June 2013.
Blakney said it wouldn’t be appropriate at this point to respond to questions about the order of protection because, so far, the investigation has only been requested by one City Council member. Council business requires approval from four members, which is a majority of the seven-member body.
In her petition, Kristie Akagi alleged that Jim Akagi threatened to kill her during a telephone conversation in January 2010, before the chief started working in Oak Ridge, and told her he has a “kill switch in Maryville for you, and your boyfriend.” She also alleged the former Drug Enforcement Administration agent told her: “I know how to do people. I know too much.”
Blakney declined to comment on the allegations by the chief’s ex-wife.
But she did respond to the concerns raised by Baughn about whether the police chief and City Manager Mark Watson knew each other before Akagi was hired in Oak Ridge. The question seems to be whether Watson hired a friend even though a search firm was hired to help the city find a new chief after David Beams retired in March 2011.
Watson has said the two men didn’t know each other, and it’s not an issue. There is about an eight-year age gap between the two of them, he said.
Blakney said Akagi was a young patrol officer for a few years in Lawrence, Kansas, when Watson’s father was city manager, and there was some connection between their parents. But the two men never met at the time, she said.
Blakney said the process used to hire Akagi was extremely transparent. It was a national search by an outside group that produced 115 applicants, she said. And there were interviews with panels of representatives in Oak Ridge, including from the United Way, the schools’ superintendent, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Public Works Department, among others.
There were also open forums featuring the finalists that the public was able to attend.
“He earned the job through a merit process that was extensive and designed to find the best prospect for the job,” Blakney said of the chief. “It was obviously not an inside political process.
“He really did take the city’s best interest into account,” she said of the city manager.
The heated debate over the Oak Ridge Police Department and Akagi’s leadership was sparked by Baughn about two weeks ago in an email about the ORPD turnover rate. It has been the talk of the town ever since. It’s created fault lines between those who suggest Baughn has a history of making questionable claims and those who think she’s shining light on problems that need to be addressed.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson has said he has “absolute confidence” in Police Chief Jim Akagi and has no plans to further investigate the Police Department.
Blakney said the chief is pleased with the department’s direction.
Any change under a new administrator can be challenging, she said, but improvements are being made. She said some employees adjust to change better than others. The police chief has a long history of law enforcement and is a very successful officer, Blakney said.
She declined to discuss the alleged policy violations cited by Bayless.
“Right now, he wants to remain focused on what the City Council wants from him,” Blakney said of the chief. “He doesn’t intend to play this out in the media.”