Vicky Newman News Herald
A hotly contested
primary election may have served to widen a long-standing rift
between the Loudon City Council and Loudon Police Department.
The disagreement underscored differences among council members
Monday, resulting in table pounding to emphasize respective
Amidst a laundry list of complaints against police, the fact
that two Loudon police officers threw their hats into the ring
for elected positions may have affected the department's
relationship with Loudon County Sheriff's Department, some
council members suggested during the regular May workshop
Councilmen have taken Loudon Police Chief James "Bear" Webb to
task repeatedly in recent months, sometimes pertaining to public
complaints about perceived bias and misuse of authority by some
Council members Lynn Millsaps, Gene Lambert and Lewis "Charlie
Brown" Garner grilled Webb again Monday concerning election
At issue, initially, were the political advertisements in the
News-Herald endorsing sheriff candidates. A quarter-page
advertisement for candidate Steve Cook ran in the April 4-5
issue, and included the statement, "Endorsed by the Loudon
Police Officers Association." The ad was paid for by the
Committee to Elect Steve Cook. On April 11-12, a full-page ad
endorsing incumbent Sheriff Tim Guider appeared. That
advertisement was paid for by the Fraternal Order of Police
Police officers who ran for office did not run for sheriff.
Loudon Police Officer Mike Newman, formerly assistant to the
chief, ran for Commissioner District 4, but was unsuccessful in
that bid for office. Police officer Brian Jenkins ran for
County Commissioner District 1, Seat A, and was successful.
Council members indicated the contested races had created some
internal divisions and muddied waters with political alliances.
Lambert broached the topic. "What are you going to do about
this rift between the sheriff's department campaign headquarters
and your office?" Lambert asked. He added, "The law says you
can support anybody you want to, but not while you are on duty.
I got a lot of complaints about campaign signs at the police
department.... If there is a problem, now that we have the same
sheriff, I hope if there's differences you can work it out."
Webb said, "The car you saw was ..." Garner interrupted, "It was
not one car." Webb responded, "I believe it was a private
individual's car that was parked there. To my knowledge, there
were not any police officers campaigning on duty - not that
works for the police department."
Webb said he felt there was no problem between his office and
Sheriff Tim Guider. "I certainly know of no problems, we work
together fine," Webb said. "His platform was working together
with other law enforcement."
Garner said Loudon citizens perceived that police are guilty of
a myriad of offenses - tailgating and profiling citizens,
stopping them for little or no reason and subjecting them to
unnecessary searches of vehicles, purses and persons.
Webb said perception is not necessarily reality.
Garner referred to a specific incident that apparently happened
recently. He said a woman had been tailgated and stopped by
police on Highland Park Avenue. Although Garner did not reveal
details, Webb appeared to have knowledge about the incident
referenced. "Do you have probable cause if it is a burned out
headlight to search a vehicle?" Garner asked. "Is that your
Webb responded that officers have a right to search and are
encouraged to do so for safety reasons. "They have a right to
search any compartment that they can lunge and reach for a
weapon. ... They (officers) don't know until they conduct a
search if drugs or a weapon are there. Isn't it your position
that you want drugs off the street? The Supreme Court provides
that we can use searches."
Council members also relayed complaints that city police
officers had pulled over outside a Loudon polling place to talk
with candidates in a tent, hampering voters' ability to get
around to vote. Garner related the complaint he had heard.
Lambert said he witnessed that happening. "I stood on my porch
and watched; I saw him stop twice before lunch," Lambert said.
Councilman Mike Cartwright waded into the discussion, saying
that he was at the polling place, and did not witness the
behaviors about which the other council members spoke.
Cartwright, who was a candidate for Loudon County trustee, said
perhaps one police car pulled over, and the officer was speaking
to him about borrowing picnic tables for a barbecue. "I'm
telling you what happened," Cartwright said to Lambert, pounding
the table for emphasis. Lambert, banging the table himself in
turn, countered that he had seen more than one officer.
Webb, smiling at the council, said he thought the officer had
stopped at the tent to eat hot dogs, and not to engage in
political activities. "He was there some of the time to eat hot
dogs - that's my explanation," he said.
The encounter between Webb and council members included
discussions about a part-time police officer who lives outside
the service area and complaints that records about stops do not
always accurately reflect what occurred.
Garner said he simply wanted all the problems corrected. "You
have a job to do and I want you to do it. I am tired of getting
complaints and calls at 11 o'clock at night. It is getting
Garner added that he felt Webb does not take the council's
directions seriously. "I feel like you are laughing at us when
you leave here. You disrespect the city council."
Webb said, "I assure you that is not my intent."
Garner, speaking again about the tailgating and search incident
discussed earlier, requested to view the videotape from the
officer's vehicle. He was told it was not available because the
camera had malfunctioned. Garner said, "Lord-a-mercy. Isn't that
amazing? We spend thousands of dollars on video cameras and it
never worked. It is getting ridiculous."
Lynn Mills, city manger, said, "That is being addressed, and it
will not happen again."
Webb said the officer's assigned vehicle had been hit by a herd
of deer and was in the repair shop. The replacement vehicle he
borrowed was one with a different type of video camera, and the
officer did not know how to use it.
Lambert conceded that police officers have a difficult job, but
added that the council represents the people, and have a right
to ask questions.