The FBI will investigate whether guards for a private security company violated the civil rights of Hispanics during an 18-month reign of terror at South Nashville apartment complexes the firm was paid to protect.
The Metro Police Department announced late Tuesday that its own investigation “substantiates that possible civil rights violations did occur.” That prompted officials to ask the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI to join the investigation, the department said in a news release.
Metro Police Chief Emmett Turner already has appointed an investigative task force to look into all issues surrounding reports of abuse against the city’s Hispanic community.
That announcement, made at a press conference last Thursday, represented an embarrassing about-face for both Turner and the Police Department. The task force, he said, would be composed of investigators from both the department and the District Attorney’s office. As recently as the week before, Turner had said only the Police Department, specifically its Internal Security Division, would conduct the probe.
Turner said the department was responding to reports contained in a two-part Nashville Scene series titled “Above the Law.” The reports revealed how guards working for the security firm Detection Services abused Hispanics living at apartment complexes the firm was under contract to patrol. The private security guards towed the Hispanics’ cars away, maced, robbed, and beat them during an 18-month spree.
The Scene also uncovered a tangled web of relationshipssome clearly unlawfulbetween the Police Department and Detection Services. Among the findings: three reports of wrongdoing by Detection Services had been referred to Internal Security over the last year, but the investigations had gotten nowhere. The Scene learned, in fact, that two members of Internal Security, including the division commander, were on the payroll of Detection Services.
Since the series was published, Turner brought in District Attorney General Torry Johnson to join in the investigation. At their press conference, Turner said the task force “will investigate all allegations of impropriety from a criminal perspective.” The task force will be overseen by Police Capt. Steve Anderson, Turner’s administrative assistant.
Johnson told the Scene this week that if investigators find credible evidence of abuses of police power unrelated to the published allegations, the investigation into police corruption could be expanded to other areas in the department.
These other announcements were also made by Turner and Johnson:
♦ The task force will also look into alleged sales of beer by Detective Archie Spain, an incident first reported in the Nashville Scene (Sept. 30, 1999) (archives.nashvillescene.com)
♦ A second police department investigation is looking into whether Sgt. Mark Garafola violated departmental regulations regarding ownership of the private security firm ASAP. Garafola was placed on desk duty Tuesday after working an off-duty job without permission. ASAP took over Detection Services’ largest contract when the firm was going out of business. Garafola has acknowledged ASAP is owned by his daughter.
♦ Three other police officers who were connected to Detection Services also have been placed on desk duty pending further investigation. They are Mike Mann, Jason Beddoe, and Rex Lisle. These three officers were named in the Scene series as having been present at roadblocks set up by Detection Services at local apartment complexes.
Here are more reactions to the Scene series:
♦ Newly installed Mayor Bill Purcell has directed that a working group be set up to “see how we can ensure that our minority population can access the system.” Purcell also held a meeting with local Hispanic leaders to talk about the abuses raised by the Scene.
♦ The State Department of Commerce and Insurance, which regulates private security firms, has launched its own investigation into Detection Services to see if any state laws have been violated.
♦ Nashville’s WTVF-Channel 5 reported last week on a “pattern of intimidation” that appears directed at those who have information about wrongdoing by Detection Services or police officers. Roxanne Copeland, who was quoted in the Scene series, said her home was broken into and the intruder left “two large butcher knives on either side of her bed,” according to Channel 5. (Shortly after the break-in, Copeland was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, according to her friends.) A former Detection Services guard also told the TV station that he had received threatening calls at home. An attempted break-in took place at the offices of the Nashville Scene, but Scene executives have declined comment. Finally, Hispanic attorney Mario Ramos said a vandal had left the “severed head of a large bird” at the end of his driveway just days after he was quoted in the Scene.
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