Let’s be perfectly honest. We knew we weren’t exactly shaking the foundations of the city when we reported that a police sergeant, Archie Spain, was selling cases of beer out of his garage (“Cold Beer, Right Here,” Nashville Scene, Sept. 30, 1999). DET Distributing Co., a local beer distributor, gave the police department about 100 cases of Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Lite to give away at charity events. But somehow, much of the beer wound up in Sgt. Spain’s garage. From there, Spain sold the suds to his fellow police officers for $6 a case.
The price alone almost made headlines. But what really hooked us was that, as the Metro Beer Permit Board told us, it’s illegal to sell beer without a permit. So here you got a cop, paid to enforce the law, who is actually breaking the law. The police department’s response? “The beer obtained by Spain was not done with the knowledge of the police department administration,” stated spokesman Don Aaron, deftly saying nothing.
So we went to press. And in the two weeks since that story appeared, things have gotten really weird. If you think making sausage is ugly, bear with us while we describe the police department’s modus operandi as it relates to Spain’s friendly, neighborhood bar.
Our original expectation was that while our report wouldn’t exactly grind operations of the police department to a halt, somewhere, somehow, someone in a position of oversight would ask a few questions about the barkeep working down the hall. Maybe someone in the department’s Internal Security Division, which is charged with overseeing the conduct of our men in blue, would stick their long arms into Spain’s ice chest. Maybe the police chief himself, concerned about the public message when cops break laws, would review the evidence.
But then we got a call on Oct. 5six days after the story appearedfrom Don Aaron, the police department spokesman. Stated Aaron: “The response to your article of last week, on behalf of (Police) Chief (Emmett) Turner and the police department, is this: that if you would like to bring formal allegations forward and make a complaint to Internal Affairs, we will handle your complaint as we would all others. But the department is not going to initiate any type of proceedings based on the Scene article and based solely on that. If you as a citizen want to bring a complaint in, it will initiate the investigation. You’re welcome to do that through internal affairs.”
Why, in the world, would the police department need the Scene to bring a complaint before it told Spain to shut down his beer trade? We simply provided the publicand the police departmentwith evidence that a member of the police force was illegally selling beer. From there, you’d think it would be up to the department to take appropriate action. The police department stops crimes every day.
To be certain, we entertained the idea that maybe we were taking this all a little bit too seriously. But then we started hearing others make complaints too.
After the story was published, DET Distributing announced it wouldn’t give beer to Spain anymore, and it would implement a system “to ensure that [donated beer] will actually be used for charitable purposes.”
Planet Hollywood, the local restaurant, stated that Archie Spain would no longer be allowed to provide security there. (Spain moonlighted as part of the security detail for Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher during the taping of his weekly TV show at the restaurant on Monday evenings.) “We are not going to turn the other cheek to illegal activity by a police officer,” the Planet Hollywood spokesman stated. “The integrity and ethics of people who work here are important to us.”
Meanwhile, Gary Sykes, the director of the Dallas-based Southwestern Law Enforcement Center and an expert in police ethics, took a look at both our story, and the police department’s response. “I’m surprised the police department is not following up on the article,” Sykes stated. “Most police departments would have internal affairs do a preliminary investigation and see if a full investigation is needed. That’s normal procedure in a police department with integrity. They’d hop on it immediately unless, of course, they have something to hide.”
For days now, we’ve been scratching our heads. Is it possible, we wondered, that maybe the department doesn’t think it important to hold its members to standards that are beyond reproach?
But hold the presses. Just as the Scene was completing another editionseven days after we had been told no investigation would be forthcomingPolice Chief Turner faxed a statement to us. Among other things, he stated:
“I initially took the position of not initiating an investigation unless you desired to come forward and make a complaint with some detail to our Internal Security Division. However, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, in the best interest of the police department, I directed that Internal Security commence an investigation to determine whether Officer Spain violated any rules/regulations in regard to the beer matter. I expect that the investigation will take some time in that I would think numerous persons, both inside and outside of the police department, would need to be interviewed.”
Chief Turner, we’re not sure what changed your mind. Maybe we were just grating on your nerves. Maybe, as crime rages about the city, it just seemed very silly by comparison. For whatever reason, let us now state the obvious: We’re happy you’re sending a signal that no police officer is above the law. We’ll be the first to acknowledge that a story about a police officer selling beer is minor-league journalism. But it was important that you show that you’re not tone deaf to ethics, and do not suffer fools gladly.
Frankly, it isn’t up to a weekly newspaper to initiate investigations of the police department. That’s your job.
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