As 1999 was drawing to a close, Scene reporter Willy Stern told the story of Larry Lawson in his two-part series, “Above the Law.”
Lawson built a private security company, Detection Services, which patrolled apartment complexes along Nolensville Road. Along the way, Lawson and his cronies went on an 18-month rampage in which they beat, robbed, and terrorized Hispanics living in the apartments they were paid to patrol.
Based on interviews with 17 Detection Services employees and some three dozen Hispanics, instances of extreme physical and emotional abuse were brought to light. One of the most troubling revelations was that three Metro Police officersJason Beddoe, Mike Mann, and Rex Lisleapparently had witnessed some of the abuse against the Hispanics while employed at Detection Services, but had done nothing to stop it.
These allegations launched several investigations that lasted almost two years.
Last week, the Metro Police Department announced that it had cleared the two officers who allegedly witnessed the abuse of Hispanics of the charges against them. (The third officer has left the force.) The problem, according to the deputy chief who made the determination, was that the allegations of wrongdoing were not credible enough to warrant action against the officers.
Let us quote from the official police document that charged the officers with wrongdoing:
“Instances observed by witnesses included a ‘Mexican’ being physically abused and sprayed excessively with chemical spray by Larry Lawson, but not arrested. This allegedly occurred in your [Mann’s] presence. [Another witness] reportedly witnessed an incident where two female trespassers were detained, handcuffed, held down, and sprayed in the face with chemical spray by Larry Lawson, but not arrested. Mr. Copeland also reported one especially egregious incident wherein Larry Lawson and Ron Crowe reportedly maced the penis of a Hispanic man caught urinating behind a Dumpster on Ivy Wood’s property, and the man was not arrested, allegedly in the presence of you [Mann] and Officer [Jason] Beddoe.”
Despite these allegations, the police officers mentioned aboveMann and Beddoeare back on duty. They are back on duty because deputy police chief Deborah Faulkner determined that the allegations were not supported by sufficient credible evidence to justify disciplinary action against the two men. The investigative report was prepared by Kennetha Sawyers, head of the department’s new Office of Professional Accountability. Police Chief Emmett Turner recruited her to investigate police wrongdoing after he determined that the department needed to overhaul an Internal Security Division rife with problems.
Two police experts who reviewed Sawyers’ report have criticized it as shoddy and lacking in specifics. Perhaps Faulkner reached the same conclusion about the report and simply believed it fell short of enough solid evidence to convince her that the two officers were aware of the abuse of Hispanics.
A more disturbing conclusion is also quite possible: that Faulkner did not want to discipline the two officers for fear of antagonizing rank-and-file police officers, with whom she reportedly has an excellent relationship. Her widely known ambition to be police chief may have colored her judgment.
Whatever the motivation for her decision, the Metro Police Department has essentially concluded that, in the face of serious evidence of some very bad things, it isn’t up to fixing the problem.
It sends a clear message to the public: The Metro Police Department is above the law.
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