In a joint Government Operations Subcommittee on Judiciary and Government meeting held Thursday, during which the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) was presenting, subcommittee member State Representative Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) used the words “disturbing” and “horrifying” to describe the recent raid on the townhome of 57th District House candidate Jeremy H. G. Hayes.
The TBI raid earlier this week of Hayes’ townhome by four TBI agents and a visit to the home of his 78-year-old grandmother by an additional three TBI agents, was reported by The Tennessee Star and News Channel 5. Hayes is running against incumbent State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) in the Republican primary.
Unrelated to the raid incident, the Subcommittee, made up of 12 members, six from each body of the Tennessee General Assembly, met to review the performance audit of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conducted by the Division of State Audit, Office of the Comptroller. TBI Director Mark Gwyn and Deputy Director Jason Locke, along with other TBI representatives, were present to respond to the findings presented by legislative performance auditors Alicia Grice and John Dunne.
There were five findings identified in the audit report. During the discussion of the first finding relative to the insufficient policies over the use of the Bureau’s aircraft, Rep. Mitchell acknowledged TBI for doing “a fine job,” but said he found the news report from the night before that was “highly disturbing.”
Rep. Mitchell told The Star, that if the question of residency “is the only reason they had to raid a person’s home, it should concern all Tennesseans.”
Seizing the opportunity before him, Mitchell told the TBI representatives in front of the subcommittee, that from his first election when he had “a gentleman living in a barn running against him,” he knows “about the process of what you do on reporting something like this and there’s an allegation that the TBI raided a home yesterday.”
Subcommittee chairman Dan Howell (R-Georgetown), interrupting Mitchell, said that the discussion was not germane to the topic of the audit finding, to which Mitchell rebutted that it was “very germane to taxpayers’ dollars.”
What Mitchell was alluding to, and Rep. Mike Stewart (R-Nashville) pointed out, is that Mitchell’s questions “go to the ultimate purpose of the meeting,” which was to vote “on the number of years we’re going to give this department.”
When Mitchell made another attempt, which he posed on the audit finding being discussed, “I have a question about the aircraft then. Yesterday, when the home was raided in Mt. Juliet for political purposes, was,” he was cut off by a subcommittee member Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), who called a point of order, which was recognized by Chairman Howell.
Nearing the end of the meeting about 45 minutes later, Chairman Howell went back to and recognized Rep. Mitchell who engaged in a back-and-forth with TBI Director Gwyn, but primarily Deputy Director Locke for more than four minutes. During that exchange, Mitchell was told that, as an ongoing criminal investigation the case in question couldn’t be discussed, but that Locke thinking back could remember two other raids over residency of a candidate for office.
Locke made the point that the district attorney general makes the request for a warrant to TBI, which TBI doesn’t “pick and choose the requests the attorney generals make of us,” the authority for which is then given by a judge.
There is apparently some discretion on the part of TBI following a request for warrant in the case of a “district attorney (that) asked you to do something that you deemed abuse of power and improper,” as Mitchell posed it and Locke replying, “We would have to take a hard look at that and if we took a look at it and deemed it an issue with the request itself.”
Earlier being asked by Chairman Howell to keep his comments to three minutes, Mitchell summarized his significant concerns on the issue with his “last comment on this,” in which he said, “Earlier I said it was disturbing, but now that, I thought you guys would just say ‘hey we were doing what the DA said it’s not always right.’” Mitchell added, “But now it’s horrifying.”
Further explaining, Mitchell said, “This is horrifying, and it should be horrifying to most citizens of the state of Tennessee,” and perhaps particularly poignant during this election season, that if your opponent questions you when you put your name on the ballot, “that some people have the authority to send the TBI to your home.”
Radio talk show host Michael Delgiorno first reported on State Rep. Mitchell’s questioning of TBI leaders on 99.7 FM WTN Friday morning.
The video recording of the meeting can be found here, and the transcript of the two segments can be read below.
Transcript at approximately 33:00:
Rep. Mitchell: You were in the hospital, so you were not responsible for this but kind of what Rep. Hardaway said, I’ve always had the utmost respect for the TBI. I think you do a fine job, but there was a news story that came out last night that’s highly disturbing to me. Just a little background on it, you know, for myself I ran, first time I ran had a gentleman living in a barn running against me so I kind of know a little bit about the process of what you do on reporting something like this and there’s an allegation that the TBI raided a home yesterday,
Chairman Howell: Representative Mitchell, if I may, this is not germane to this finding, so if you would like to discuss that with the Director at another time, we would like to move on with this finding and with the other four findings. This is not germane to this find.
Rep. Mitchell: I think this is very germane to the taxpayers’ dollars
Chairman Howell: It’s not germane to this finding on the aircraft, and that’s what we’re talking about right now, sir. So I think we’ll move on, unless you have a question about the aircraft.
Rep. Mitchell: Well, yes, I have a question about the aircraft then. Yesterday, when the home was raided in Mt. Juliet for political purposes, was
Sen. Bell: Point of order, point of order Mr. Chairman, he’s he’s going back to the same
Rep. Mitchell: was the plane used
(gavel, gavel, gavel)
Chairman Howell: We’ll move on.
Transcript, beginning at approximately 1:18:
Rep. Mitchell: Commissioner Gwyn appreciate you again for coming here. I don’t know why some of my colleagues wouldn’t want you to answer some of these questions, but yesterday the TBI raided the home of a state House candidate in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Could you tell me why that home was raided?
Director Gwyn: I think it would be improper for me to talk about an ongoing criminal investigation. I can tell you we were there at the request of the district attorney general, but past that, it would be improper to talk about an ongoing criminal investigation.
Rep. Mitchell: Okay. In the history of your time with the TBI, do you know of any other occasion where the TBI has raided a home in regards to a residency requirement of a office someone seeking public office?
Director Gwyn: (shaking his head) I’d have to look and see, I just don’t know.
Deputy Director Jason Locke (nodding his head in the affirmative) Just off the top of my head for sure I know of one other for sure.
Rep. Mitchell: And could you
Deputy Director Locke: I had a second one pop in my mind, two for sure that I could name immediately.
Rep. Mitchell: And, raiding a home, usually that’s to the extent I think that would be you know some major crime or the public safety would be in jeopardy, but you know what triggers the TBI raiding a home?
Deputy Director Locke: Well, certainly any criminal investigation, part of any criminal investigation is going to consist of gathering evidence and any investigation such as this we’re not going to begin an investigation most any time absent a request from the district attorney general to begin with.
Rep. Mitchell: Okay, alright. Well thank you for that. So, you know, the process, like I was saying earlier, the process in this is when you question someone’s residency requirement in a house race, because as I said earlier I had a guy living in a barn run against me the first time I ran, you file a complaint with the county election commission and they investigate it. It does not rise to the level of, you know, a search warrant for the TBI. So that’s kind of un highly unusual, wouldn’t you think?
Deputy Director Locke: Again, we at TBI don’t pick and choose the requests that the district attorneys make of us, they make the request.
Rep. Mitchell: Well if the district attorney asked you to do something that you deemed abuse of power and improper, would you still follow it?
Deputy Director Locke: We would have to take a hard look at that and if we took a look at it and deemed it an issue with the request itself.
Rep. Mitchell: Okay, is it is there a paper trail public, that the public can see of this search warrant? Is it open to the pubic?
Deputy Director Locke: It would be open to the public once that warrant gets filed back with the court clerk in the jurisdiction where it was obtained.
Rep. Mitchell: Because wouldn’t certain evidentiary requirements have to be met before a search warrant was issued?
Deputy Director Locke: Absolutely, the judge, we don’t we’re not going to have the authority to just go obtain a search warrant at any time. We have to present evidence to a judge that specific evidence that we are looking for is located in a specific location. We have to have probable cause that that evidence is there and is going to be there when we execute the search warrant and the judge has to ultimately give us the authority to serve that search warrant or not.
Rep. Mitchell: My last comment on this, and I’ll end, you know earlier I said it was disturbing but now that I thought you guys would just say hey we were doing what the DA said it’s not always right. But now it’s horrifying. This is horrifying, and it should be horrifying to most citizens of the state of Tennessee that you know, when you put your name on the ballot if your opponent, you know, questions you, that some people have the authority to send the TBI to your home.
Chairman Howell: Representative Mitchell you are over your time limit.
Rep. Mitchell: And like I said it’s horrifying, and it should horrify you as well.
Sen. Bell: The TBI can’t come in without the district attorney directing them period. They have no authority to come in and start an investigation except in matters of public corruption if I’m not mistaken
Director Gwyn: And drugs.
Sen. Bell: And drugs.
Chairman Howell: The comment was made that the members didn’t want to hear the answers to that question, the Chairman ruled because we were off topic and that’s we had plenty of time to address that at the end.