A police captain gets a big promotion despite a checkered past

A police captain gets a big promotion despite a checkered past

A recently promoted assistant police chief has a blemished past, having once starred in one of the most notable scandals in the department’s history.

In 1988, Captain Richard Briggance was the subject of three different investigations after allegations surfaced that he and other instructors at the police academy had sexually harassed and slept with female trainees two years earlier. The department found that Briggance had a sexual relationship with one of the trainees, conveyed sexually suggestive comments to others and took part in grade fixing. In a separate incident, the department suspended Briggance for crashing his police car while driving drunk.

But this month, Briggance was promoted to assistant police chief in charge of the newly created Specialized Field Services Bureau as well as the warrants, property and evidence divisions. Now one of the highest-ranking police officers in the city, earning more than $90,000 a year, Briggance has enjoyed a relatively perfect disciplinary record since those 1988 troubles, prompting his defenders to say that the 33-year veteran of the force has overcome his past mistakes. And Briggance himself asks the Scene, “Why are you going back to 1986?”

But other officers, while reluctant to criticize the new assistant chief publicly, question Briggance’s promotion in light of his prior conduct—even if it happened more than 15 years ago. And a member of a citizens’ advisory panel that interviewed Briggance when he applied for a promotion more than two years ago says that the panel didn’t recommend him then because of the training academy incidents.

“You hate to say that any flaw is three strikes and you’re out, but what happened was a problem,” says John Seigenthaler, the former Tennessean editor and publisher who chaired the panel. “It was an impediment.”

Based in part on the advice of that panel, Police Chief Emmett Turner passed over Briggance when he filled three assistant chief positions in May 2001. But last month, he tapped Briggance to take one of three newly created assistant chief positions. In a statement, Turner defends his selection. “Assistant Chief Briggance has paid the price for what happened and put it behind him,” the statement reads. “Since then, he has proven to be an asset to the police department and is now an important part of our management team.”

In each of his selections for the assistant chief positions, Turner consulted with the mayor’s office. Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips says that the mayor’s office has no quarrel with Briggance’s promotion, despite what happened at the academy. “There’s no doubt that what he did was totally unacceptable. He agrees it was totally unacceptable,” Phillips says. “But everybody agrees that he was a top-notch police officer and has been throughout his career, except for this one, unexplainable period.”

In 1988, Lisa Stojanowski, a waitress turned police officer, came forward with allegations that two years earlier Briggance and two of his colleagues coerced her into having sex while she was a police trainee. At the time, Briggance, then in his 40s, was working as a supervisor of physical and academic training at the academy. Stojanowski’s attorney, Phillip Davidson, at the time that she had sex with her supervisors because she thought that’s what she had to do to remain at the police academy.

In a daylong hearing, however, then-Police Chief Joe Casey cleared Briggance of having improper sexual relationships with Stojanowski and another recruit, with whom he was also accused of making unwelcome sexual advances. But Casey punished and demoted Briggance for having sex with another trainee at the Best Western Metro Inn Motel in East Nashville shortly after she concluded her firearms training. According to his formal disciplinary letter, Briggance initially denied having a sexual relationship with the trainee. Later, however, he admitted that he slept with her on several occasions.

According to police files, Casey also found Briggance guilty of making inappropriate comments to trainees, including suggesting that they meet him at various locations away from the academy. According to police files, Briggance also told them that if they reached a certain score on their firearms tests, they’d have to kiss him. Finally, the department slapped Briggance for improperly helping two struggling students pass tests—lowering the grading standards for one and giving another the answer to a test question.

For those offenses, Briggance received a 15-day suspension without pay. Then a captain, Briggance also was demoted to the rank of lieutenant with a corresponding cut in pay, losing approximately $390 a month in salary. He also lost his job at the police academy. One current high-ranking officer who was at the department during the sex scandals says that many of the rank and file felt at the time that Briggance got off easy. Casey, however, felt otherwise. “I think the punishment I gave him indicated I was pretty angry,” he told the Nashville Banner then.

In addition to Briggance, four other training officers were transferred from the academy. Two of them were demoted after an investigation found that they had sex with Stojanowski while she was a trainee. Adding to the department’s embarrassment, a patrol sergeant was cited for telling Stojanowski that the only way to become a real police officer was to drink, get into a fight and “get a blow job”—all on duty. Meanwhile, Casey fired Stojanowski after another officer turned her in for possessing and using cocaine and drinking on duty. Shortly after that scandal, an intoxicated Briggance crashed his police car while off duty. He registered a .17 on a Breathalyzer test, well over the legal limit of .10. The department suspended him for 15 calendar days and made him pay for the damages to the car.

In the spring of 2001, Briggance and 11 other captains applied for several open assistant chief positions. At that point, a four-person citizen panel, whose role was to advise Police Chief Emmett Turner, interviewed the candidates and asked six to return, Briggance included. But the panel ultimately decided not to recommend the veteran captain because of his involvement in the training academy sex scandals. Instead, it gave higher ratings to the five other captains.

“We explained to him that he had an outstanding record for over a decade,” Seigenthaler says. “But the problem at the academy wasn’t something that the panel felt comfortable with, and the panel couldn’t recommend him on that basis.”

David Jennings, the assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation who also sat on the citizen body, says that while Briggance compiled a sterling record since the scandal, the panel had to factor in his poor judgment at the academy. “There was no way to ignore it,” he says. “You can’t just say that those events never occurred.”

Seigenthaler says that Briggance took the news well. “He was terrific about it,” he says. “He said he applied knowing that it might be a problem and that he appreciated our candor. I thought he handled it with dignity.”

In May 2001, Turner took the advice of the panel, selecting his three assistant chiefs from among the five highest-rated captains. But last month, in the wake of an outside audit that recommended the creation of three more assistant chief positions, Turner went back to the pool of finalists and tapped Briggance.

Seigenthaler says he’s not sure the panel would have recommended Briggance if it had reconvened. “If we met again, I don’t know how it would come out,” he says. “I think it would still be a problem for me.”


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