Today, March 29, marks the 82nd day that Tullahoma Police Chief Paul Blackwell has been on paid administrative leave while the city investigates police department procedures and protocols.
However, after nearly three months without a permanent police chief, city officials remain tight-lipped on the status of the investigation and Blackwell’s future with the City of Tullahoma.
Blackwell and former Tullahoma Police Department Captain George Marsh were both placed on paid administrative leave from their respective positions on Jan. 7 “pending the outcome of an internal investigation into department management and possible breach of internal protocols,” according to City Administrator Jennifer Moody.
The News reached out to Moody on Friday, March 22, with questions about the status of the investigation, as well as Blackwell’s tenure as chief of police, but these questions went unanswered by press time on Thursday afternoon.
The city launched its own investigation into the department following the conclusion of a TBI investigation into the same. The TBI launched its investigation in December 2018, when it received a complaint of possible misconduct in Blackwell’s office.
The complaint led the TBI to investigate TPD’s handling of an investigation of a motor vehicle crash involving Blackwell’s son, Johnathan Paul Blackwell, in November of last year.
Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott had received a copy of that report by Jan. 4. Two weeks later, citing his “close personal relationship with the individuals involved as well as the TPD as a whole,” Northcott recused himself from the case, asking the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference to appoint a pro tem prosecutor to review the findings of the TBI report and decide what action, if any, should be taken. In mid-February, 16th Judicial District Attorney General Jennings Jones was appointed.
Though it followed on the heels of the TBI investigation, Northcott said in January the city’s investigation was not related to the TBI investigation.
“All I’m at liberty to say at this point is that Chief Blackwell and Capt. Marsh are on administrative leave,” he said. “And it is unrelated to the TBI investigation.”
In January, Tullahoma Public Information Officer Winston Brooks said the investigation was a “personnel matter and cannot be discussed until due process” is completed.
“The investigation is not considered complete until any potential disciplinary actions and appeal processes have been exhausted,” Brooks said in January. “As a result, we cannot provide any further information at this time.”
Marsh resigned from his position with Tullahoma Police Department on Friday, Feb. 15. In a statement issued at that time, Moody commended Marsh for his service the community, but did not address if his resignation was related to the city’s investigation. When asked for clarification from The News, Moody responded in an email, “we have no further comments at this time.”
Since then, Blackwell has remained on paid administrative leave with the city rather than suspended, a distinction which keeps his commission intact. According to the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Office, a police officer can be decommissioned if he or she has been suspended “30 days or longer.” Since Blackwell has been placed on administrative leave by the city, rather than suspended, he is not subject to being decommissioned, despite not working for more than 80 days. Attempts to confirm this with city officials were unsuccessful by press time.
As of Thursday, Blackwell was still on paid administrative leave and the police department was being run by Acting Chief Jason Ferrell.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.