Former Oak Ridge police detective John Criswell suspected his former police chief, James Akagi, was about to retaliate against him.
He didn’t know just how bad things were about to get.
Akagi, according to several news reports dating back to 2015, was a vindictive person. He reportedly was even known to throw random objects at work when he had a short fuse.
Oak Ridge City Council members had already hired consultants to review whether morale among police officers was low under his leadership.
But in Criswell’s case, he said he didn’t know Akagi would cross a line he said decent men don’t cross.
In interviews with The Tennessee Star, Oak Ridge City Council member Chuck Hope and former City Council member Trina Baughn said they personally vouch for Criswell’s integrity.
When asked, Criswell said there’s no nice way to describe Akagi.
“Honestly, with his up and down behavior, he exhibited some signs of being a sociopath. No one knew what to expect. Even my supervisors would lay low,” Criswell said.
“But when Akagi started messing with my family that’s when he crossed a serious line with me. That’s not something that you do.”
Attempts to reach Akagi at his personal cell phone number were unsuccessful. Members of the Oak Ridge Police Department directed all questions to an unspecified person at another phone number.
On Wednesday no one answered that phone.
Go back to the year 2015.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported that year, an Oak Ridge police officer, Christopher Bayless, pulled over a blue Ford Explorer for traveling 88 mph, more than 30 miles over the posted speed limit. He learned the driver was Akagi, his own police chief.
According to a formal complaint Bayless later had to file, Akagi tried to retaliate by having him brought up on aggravated assault charges while making an arrest — in an unrelated case.
Using video footage, members of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation later cleared Bayless in that unrelated case of intentionally hitting a suspect with his patrol car.
Akagi, though, continued to make life difficult for Bayless, according to Tennessee Watchdog.
So Bayless resigned.
Former Oak Ridge Police Chief David Beam told Tennessee Watchdog he witnessed Akagi have an ugly outburst at a Tennessee Association of Police Chiefs convention in Memphis.
Soon, other officers came forward anonymously and complained to Baughn. Baughn took the matter up at the city council. She pointed out an unusually high turnover rate among officers since Akagi took over.
Members of the city council hired a third party to investigate why the force had so much turnover. Many officers were interviewed.
Eventually, those consultants said the turnover had more to do with salaries and less to do with how Akagi treated them.
“During that whole review time, there were several of us, including me and my family, that would go to the city council meetings as a sign of support and show we aren’t letting this go away because it seemed like it was going to get swept under the carpet.”
“During that time, my wife and my kids were very protective of me and my co-workers. They were all over social media. Trying to explain things to people defending Akagi at that time. People who never worked for him.”
“If I personally made any comments it was to correct someone. Just telling people to have an open mind.”
Akagi apparently had a problem with it, nevertheless.
At first, Criswell said Akagi banished him to an office to work by himself.
Later, he said the chief would ignore him at staff meetings.
That’s when Criswell asked for a private meeting and tried to extend an olive branch.
“When I tried to patch things up with him, he pulled out a file an inch thick. He slammed it down on a table and basically started berating me,” Criswell said.
The chief, Criswell learned, printed out and collected every single Facebook post or social media post made by him and his wife and kids, he said.
“Later I learned Chief Akagi every day would come into the office and ask his crime analysts to check social media for any new posts by me, my wife, and my kids.”
Criswell resigned earlier this year due to what he described as “a hostile work environment.”
This summer city officials received several anonymous letters from more police officers complaining about Akagi’s leadership.
Last week, Akagi announced he is resigning, according to the Knox News Sentinel.
But Criswell said Akagi went low.
“It was creepy, and it was wrong. I felt like my life was being invaded.”
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