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Answer pending on question of state law; POST has no current investigation
Federal officials have concluded that Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi did not violate federal law while carrying a firearm during divorce proceedings several years ago, the chief’s attorney said in a letter received by state officials this month.
In April, the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, or POST, asked state and federal authorities to investigate whether Akagi violated state and federal laws by possessing a firearm after being issued an ex parte order of protection during divorce proceedings in Blount County three years ago.
Tasha C. Blakney, Akagi’s attorney, summarized a conversation with Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Cook about the inquiry in a June 12 letter that was copied to Ray Farris, assistant director of POST. On Monday, Oak Ridge Today requested an update from POST, which certifies law enforcement officers in Tennessee, and received a copy of the letter.
According to Blakney, Cook found factual inaccuracies in the POST letter, including the notion that Akagi possibly violated federal law by possessing a firearm while “under the authority of an active order of protection.”
“Pursuant to your research, you have determined that Chief Akagi was not the subject of an active order of protection, which would have, pursuant to federal law, required him to dispossess himself of firearms,” Blakney said in her letter to Cook. “Furthermore, based upon your research, you have determined that even if Chief Akagi had been under an active order of protection, as inferred by the POST correspondence, that a federal exemption applies to law enforcement officers such as Chief Akagi.
“Accordingly, to summarize, it is your opinion that Chief Akagi has violated no federal laws as the plain language of the statute does not apply to him with regard to the entry of the ex parte order and, further, to the extent that any order of protection had been entered following a hearing, which in this case it was not, a statutory exemption would have applied.”
POST had sent its April letter to William Killian, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville; Mike Flynn, district attorney general in the Fifth Judicial District in Maryville; and Dave Clark, district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District in Clinton.
In her June letter, Blakney said she has also talked to Killian and “he has likewise confirmed that it is the opinion of your office that, based upon the facts of this matter, Chief Akagi has violated no federal law and it is inaccurate for anyone to state or to otherwise imply knowledge that Chief Akagi’s conduct is under investigation by his office.”
“There is no federal investigation, and there never was,” Blakney said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The matter is closed.”
On Tuesday, Clark said he and Flynn have communicated, and Clark anticipates they could send a letter to POST by early next week. But he declined to say whether the two DAs had found any violation of state law.
“I don’t want to jump the gun on what the letter will say,” Clark said.
A two-sentence letter that was received by POST on May 4 said Flynn had forwarded the Commission’s inquiry to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
But it’s not clear yet how the letter by Clark and Flynn might reflect any changes to that request. Blakney said there is no TBI investigation.
“That matter has been closed,” she said.
Oak Ridge Today has also requested comment from TBI. Federal officials said they cannot comment at this time, a spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon.
In a Tuesday letter, Blakney said POST has no active investigation.
“There is no action that POST will be taking,” Blakney said during the phone interview. “Chief Akagi has violated no federal or state laws. Hopefully, this will be enough to stop this. It’s time to end it.”
She said the Tuesday letter summarized a conversation she had on Monday with D. Scott Wilder, assistant general counsel for fire prevention and law enforcement in the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
In that letter, Blakney said POST has no statutory authority to pursue an investigation following the referral to the U.S. attorney and the two DAs.
“Thus, to the extent that there is any statement or insinuation that POST is currently investigating Chief Akagi as a result of the issues raised regarding an alleged order of protection, those indications would be inaccurate,” she said.
In that letter, she reiterated her concerns that the initial POST letter was factually and legally inaccurate, including because there was no final order of protection for the chief to violate.
Blakney said the political process to investigate the chief failed earlier this year, so a small but vocal faction that was displeased when City Council rejected calls for an investigation tried an alternative avenue, pursuing action through POST. Continuing to ask for the same answers from different sources starts to appear like a vendetta, Blakney said.
“Chief Akagi did not violate any law,” she said.
In April, she said Akagi was not prohibited from carrying a firearm.
“I am absolutely confident that there has been no violation of state or federal law in this family law matter with regard to the ex parte order of protection that was temporarily entered and subsequently dismissed,” Blakney said. “They simply don’t carry any implications for an individual’s Second Amendment rights. That’s just a function of understanding the way that Tennessee law works.”
The Blount County Circuit Court has said there was an agreed order dismissing a petition filed by Akagi’s ex-wife Kristie Michelle Akagi and the temporary order of protection. Those were issued in April 2012 and dismissed in June 2013.
It’s not clear who requested the POST inquiry. In April, Walters said there were two complaints related to the order of protection and the chief’s carrying a firearm. One complaint came from a former ORPD lieutenant and another came from an unidentified person, Walters said.
Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn, who has led the movement to investigate the chief and the ORPD on a range of issues, including his hiring four years ago and his treatment of employees, said she hadn’t seen Blakney’s letter yet, and she declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.
Blakney said an ex parte order does not have the same implications as an order of protection, which involves a different type of proceeding. She said an ex parte order is entered without a hearing, based solely on allegations from one party, and the other side is not give a chance to respond. An ex parte order is a temporary order pending resolution of “big picture issues,” Blakney said.
“It’s not uncommon to see those in domestic cases,” she said.
Separate from the POST inquiry, there is a review of the Oak Ridge Police Department being conducted by the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee. That review is focused on turnover, morale, and administrative policies. It could cost close to $23,000 and not be complete until October. The Oak Ridge City Council approved the review in a 4-3 vote in May. It could include interviews with about 125 people, including roughly 76 current ORPD employees as well as several dozen former workers who have left in the roughly four years since Akagi started.
There has been disagreement among residents about whether Baughn and others are doing the right thing in pressing for an investigation or review of the ORPD and the police chief. A few residents and local workers have told Oak Ridge Today that Baughn is holding people accountable and doing the job the rest of the City Council should be doing, while others have said she is “dragging the chief through the mud,” publicly airing “dirty laundry,” and engaged in a “witch hunt.” There appears to be a big group in the middle who point out that the crime rate is down, and they suggest that that is what is most important to them.
Still, some current and former officers had asked the City Council for help. The Council in March agreed to a limited 30-day review that would have interviewed a random pool of employees. But after that review got off to what was perceived as a rocky start, the Council broadened the apparently unprecedented inquiry to include all current employees and some former workers.
See Blakney’s letter to Cook here: Blakney Letter to Cook June 12, 2015.
See Blakney’s letter to Wilder here: Blakney Letter to Wilder June 30, 2015.
See newer story with responses from TBI, Clark and Flynn, and POST here.
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