A young Metro police officer took WTVF-Channel 5 off the hook Monday, instead exposing himself when he admitted that he was one of the station’s confidential sources who accused former police Maj. Carl Dollarhide of covering up evidence of alleged crimes of Brad Lewis, son of convicted gambler Jimmy Lewis.
A polygraph test Brad Lewis recently took from a respected out-of-town expert and retired FBI agent with no other connection to Lewis or local police, however, contradicts 27-year-old officer Mike Dunn’s sworn testimony.
Brad Lewis filed a libel suit against Channel 5 last year claiming that Phil Williams, the station’s star investigator, falsely reported that he had been stopped by police carrying a “sawed-off shotgun” as well as “paper sacks with hundredsmaybe thousandsof dollars in cash, along with what appeared to be betting slips.” According to Williams’ story, Lewis was saved from arrest only by the personal intervention of Dollarhide who, at the time, was one of Metro’s top-ranking officers and married to the suspect’s sister.
Lewis and Dollarhide contend that there was no sawed-off shotgun in the car and only one sack, a cloth bag from First American Bank, filled with cash and credit card slips from a restaurant Lewis owned. Last week, Dollarhide also sued both the station and Williams.
Until this week, Dunn denied talking to Williams about the incident. In a deposition Monday, however, Dunn not only admitted being a confidential source but claimed that Dollarhide was “crooked” and that Jimmy Lewis could pay someone “$30” to burn down Dunn’s house.
“I can’t even get someone to mow my lawn for $30,” the older Lewis said after hearing Dunn’s statement. “Why doesn’t [Dunn] take a polygraph test?”
That’s a good question.
“Brad Lewis doesn’t lie very well,” retired FBI agent Bob Campbell said Monday afternoon. “If he’s going to fabricate a story, it would have been pretty obvious to me.”
Campbell should know. He spent 30 years giving polygraph tests for the FBI. He now runs a polygraph business near Memphis and often works for area police departments. In late March, he spent “three to four hours” with Brad Lewis and then gave him a polygraph test.
Lewis passed every question.
Although Dunn said Monday that the cash and “betting slips” were in a folded paper sack, not a bank bag, Campbell says that doesn’t matter.
“The issue was whether he had gambling slips or not,” he says. “That issue, in my mind, was resolved.”
Scene sources say that several hours of police radio tapes of the incident include no mention of betting slips. Sources also say Dunn griped about Dollarhide to fellow officers at the time but never put anything in writing or mentioned the incident to internal affairs until after Williams began asking questions a year and a half later.
As for the “sawed-off shotgun,” Dunn said in his deposition that the barrel mayor may nothave been less than 18 inches, the legal minimum. He said he never measured the gun but returned it to Dollarhide, who gave it back to Brad Lewis. Lewis still has the unusual shotgun, a so-called “snake charmer,” which has a pistol grip, a 31-inch barrel, and can be bought off-the-shelf at most gun stores.
In the story aired by Channel 5, however, Williams held up a sawed-off shotgun borrowed from the police property room and told viewers it was “like” the gun in Lewis’ car. On Monday, Dunn testified that he did not see the broadcast.
Notwithstanding the borrowed shotgun, it’s hard to argue that Williams didn’t have a legally defensible basis for the broadcast. Dunn’s deposition corroborates the main point in Williams’ story. At bottom, though, these two lawsuits against Channel 5 have more to do with the Metro Police Department than the media.
Largely because of Williams’ story, Chief Emmett Turner suspended Dollarhide. A few days later, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Purcell told The Tennessean, “Where there’s smoke, there is often fire. There seems to be an awful lot of smoke around [Dollarhide].” Two weeks later, Dollarhide, 59, announced his retirement. Since then, two other longtime, high-ranking officers, Charles Smith and Bobby Russell, also have left the department, some think under pressure from Turner and, perhaps, Purcell.
For most of the last 100 years, Nashville has had a reputation as an “open” town, where gamblers and bootleggers made alliances with cops and politicians. Fairly or not, three senior officers associated with the department’s troubled past now have “retired.” Some people think Turner himself may be next.
But there’s a far more serious issue at stake: Either Dollarhide covered up evidence of two federal crimes or Dunn, a first-year rookie, tried to frame a superior officer.
Campbell believes Brad Lewis is innocent and that Dunn initially may have embellished the incident and has now gone too far to back down. He thinks it’s time for the policeor the FBIto polygraph Dunn.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t,” Campbell says.
To reach Henry, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.