[Editor’s note: Former Tullahoma Police Chief Paul Blackwell released the following statement late Monday night. It appears below, verbatim].
To the citizens of Tullahoma:
The last few weeks have involved trials and tribulations. I would like to express my extreme appreciation to the many citizens that have called me, texted me, spoken to me in person, and sent me emails of support; above all, I appreciate your prayers. I have served this community as your chief of police for 11.5 years, including a four-month period as the interim city administrator. I am grateful for all the relationships that have been formed and the eagerness and cooperation to work together in a manner benefitting our community. Throughout that time, the emphasis has been on continuing the relationship of the police department with the members of our community.
On Monday, April 22, I made a statement before the court in response to a charge against me for tampering with evidence: “I stand before you in total disbelief of the situation. I ask you to accept my no contest plea to the charge and would like to assure you that my actions on Nov. 30 were not intended to commit any offense or disparage the profession I have served for 37 years. The people that know me; and even those not my supporters, know my character, level of integrity, and values. I believe my actions were in keeping with my responsibility as the leader of the organization and the need to keep my people informed. I am here today with my head held high as I reflect on 37 years of selfless service to my community and law enforcement. I will continue to serve my community to the best of my ability and within the boundaries of the agreement.”
This writing is not to be negative towards anyone; it is intended to validate my 37 years of service as a law enforcement officer and my commitment to ensure all are treated fairly and justly, and as chief, to ensure officers had the information, guidance, and knowledge to serve this community to the best of their ability. Law enforcement officers have an obligation when investigating an incident to not only gather and provide information or evidence that someone is involved in a crime, but to also consider information or evidence that excludes someone in a crime. I stand firm that my actions in this matter were intended to inform officers of state statute, specifically 63-1-156; and provide guidance in the proper method to report the event, regardless of who is involved. I believe those that know me, will in fact affirm these are the values I maintain. I believe the sharing of the statute ‘is, and was, the right thing to do.’ Throughout my 37 years, I have not adhered to, or supported a practice of ‘just arrest them and let the courts and lawyers figure it out.’ Discretion is the greatest tool an officer has and should not be abused by a lack of knowledge.
On Thursday evening, Nov 29, I received a telephone call from the shift sergeant. He informed me my son had been in an accident and would soon be transported to the hospital. Our conversation lasted 47 seconds. My wife and I went to be with our son, as any parent would do. The officers spoke with me and explained the circumstances and indicated a controlled substance was found. I responded, “You know how to do your job, do your job.” I then spoke to both my wife and son and we fully expected him to be charged or arrested that evening. The officer did not charge or arrest my son that evening and we went home.
On Friday, Nov 30, I read the police report regarding my son’s incident. The report indicated while my son was receiving medical attention, the ambulance personnel went through his pockets and found a controlled substance which they gave to the officer. I also reviewed an email I had received a few days earlier, Nov 28, from the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police policy committee coordinator related to a suggested policy/procedure for police departments concerning Naloxone, an opioid antagonist. In this information was also reference to immunity from arrest, charges, or prosecution for covered instances if evidence is discovered as a result of medical attention. I sought further clarification and contacted the TN Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and received confirmation the immunity statute could be found in TCA 63-1-156.
I shared the information with others and sought their input. I asked the patrol captain to review the statute and give me his interpretation. I then asked him to let the primary responding officer and his sergeant to review it as well. The captain returned and said it was decided by all parties the statute did apply to this matter. We discussed ‘if’ no charges are to be filed, in accordance with the statute, this is no longer a criminal report but a medical report. When no charges are to be filed, the property is no longer evidence but now contraband. (For clarification; evidence items are used in a legal proceeding to prove a case; whereas contraband is an item that is illegal to possess but not needed for a legal proceeding) The TCA 63-1-156 discusses both evidence and contraband seizure. Any seized property, including contraband, can only be destroyed by a court order signed by a judge. Neither the chief, nor any other officer has the authority to simply ‘destroy’ items. At the end of the day, I believed the officers had been provided information that was relevant to the situation, TCA 63-1-156, were given the opportunity to read the statute, and give their interpretation.
I am now satisfied that officers of the Tullahoma Police Department, the district attorney’s office, the investigating TBI agent, and attorneys, are aware of this ‘immunity’ statute and if applicable, can be applied in future incidents. My hope, with this knowledge: that immunity - if applicable, can be applied on the front end of an incident before any person’s liberties have been impacted. Our state legislators had a purpose for this statute when enacted in 2015; the burden on our society is to recognize the demon of substance abuse, and seek treatment for those afflicted by its damage; treatment and not prosecution to those that are eligible for immunity that is provided in state statute (63-1-156). This statute was not created for my son, but all who are entitled to the immunity if the situation dictates.
I have suffered immensely by the news reports and social media comments, all without response from me. Through all of this, my faith in God has not wavered. The scriptures tell me to praise Him even in my trials and tribulations. My values as an officer, and my values based on my faith, allow me to say “doing the right thing is not without pain and hurt,” but there is a greater plan. I am grateful for 37 years of selfless service to community. I have often said that law enforcement work is the most ‘noble profession’ there is. Thank you for your trust, confidence, and support.