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7th November 2003

Highway Patrol investigation continues

KNOXVILLE - The investigation into allegations against a Tennessee Highway Patrol Officer is continuing, even though the officer retired Nov. 1.
The states investigation into allegations that Lt. Larry Parsley clocked into work for THP, but actually pursued his own contracting business on state time, will be ongoing for awhile yet, said Department of Safety Internal Affairs Captain Larry Rucker. Meanwhile, troopers in two counties have alleged that politics and favoritism, not competence and qualifications, have played the biggest role in Governor Phil Bredesens top law enforcement appointments.

A Nashville trooper who claims to have worked for the THP through three governors, including Bredesen, said, This is the most politically charged atmosphere I have ever seen. While he did decline to cite specifics he did say that many supervisors and officers seem more intent on climbing the career ladder than pursuing public safety issues. The trooper, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Gov. Bredesen was the best governor Tennessee has had in 20 years and that he [Bredesen] would not tolerate what was happening within the department if he was aware of it.

Prior to the start of the states investigation into allegations regarding Parsley, Captain Charles Laxton told The Knoxville Journal that he had worked long and hard on the Governors campaign prior to being appointed by the Governor to his current position with the THP. Laxton has a signed photograph of Bredesen in his office. When asked about how he got his Captains appointment, he briefly described his work on the governors campaign.

According to the contents of Laxtons personnel file, Laxton bypassed the rank of lieutenant and went from the position of sergeant directly to that of Captain. The Department of Safety did not provide and his personnel file did not contain his performance evaluations for the year 1998, 1999 and 2003years in which other officers claim negative comments were made regarding his performance.

Staffers in the office, after paging through the file, said, Maybe they just got busy and didn't do an evaluation for those years. According to several inside sources, the evaluations co-incide with a complaint from a minister and his wife who discovered Laxton engaged in some form of alleged sexual activity in a patrol car behind a local church.

The ministers wife complained, but an investigation was never formally conducted, or, like the personnel evaluations, it was never placed into Laxtons permanent files. Both Laxton and the woman were allegedly married to other spouses at the time. Laxton, whose current wife, Cheryl Laxton, manages the Holiday Inn Express in Harriman, is expected to be called as a witness in a Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit against Blount County next year.

According to Former Blount County deputy Kathy Veal, Cheryl and Charles Laxton both allowed THP officers and county deputies to stay free in Holiday Inn Express hotel rooms during their shiftsgenerally with female companions.

Officers, Veal claims, also utilized the hotel as a meeting place for extramarital affairs and sexual liaisons while on-duty.

Veal claims she spent several nights and days at the inn with Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp during a two-year relationship she had with Crisp.

Prior to Crisps being appointed as Maryville Police Chief, Crisp was Chief Deputy of the Blount County Sheriffs department.

Laxton, she claims, had full knowledge of her relationship with Crisp, who was married at the time, and of the on-duty meetings of both THP officers and Blount County officers at the Holiday Inn.

Veals lawsuit against Blount County, Tony Crisp, and Blount County Sheriff James Berrong is expected to be filed sometime in November. Veal also has audio-tapes in which Laxton makes reference to Veals having enough information to blow that (Blount County Sheriffs) department wide open. Laxton, Veal claims, had knowledge of such activities such as Parsleys construction business and of extra-martial affairs of THP officers and deputies while on-duty.

Law enforcement sources in various departments have expressed concern about the direction the district is taking and the image of the THP in Knoxville and the surrounding counties. Even though Parsley has retired and other officers are under investigation, sources inside the department have expressed concern about whether or not Gov. Bredesen will take any action against Parsley or other officials once the investigation is completed. They have also expressed concern over who the governor may appoint to replace former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director Larry Wallace.

Its all trickle down, one officer said. They set the tone and let us know what the standards are. And the standards now are strictly political. The primary question now, both among several TBI employees and some state troopers, is who Gov. Bredesen will appoint to the post of Director for the TBI. Because the TBI is often called in to investigate allegations against other law enforcement agencies in instances such as Parsleys, the ethical meter of the director is a critical issue.

As required by statute, David Jennings, the deputy director in charge of the TBIs Criminal Investigation Division, will serve as acting director, while a nominating commission considers Wallaces successor. According to TBI sources, Jennings is clean, and doesnt play political games. He is straight-forward and honest and therefore not the kind of director a governor will generally choose, sources claim.

He wont play ball with anyone if its dishonest, law enforcement sources said. Hes honest. That high up they want someone who will bend.

The nominating commission will consist of five people. The Speakers of the Tennessee House and Senate each appoint two members. The fifth member is the executive director of the District Attorneys General Conference. The Governor will select a new director from the three names submitted by the commission if he finds one of those names to be suitable. Bredesen may also choose to reject all names and send the nominating commission back to select additional names. The Governors appointee will complete Wallaces six-year term, which ends in seven months.

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