UPDATE 4/23/16: After the city’s review giving “courtesy calls” to UT administrators for criminal investigations involving students, KPD Chief David Rausch issued this statement:
“After reviewing our longstanding practice of courtesy notifications to the University of Tennessee administration of incidents involving UT students, it is clear that no investigations were compromised or improper information provided. But in the interest of transparency and to alleviate any appearance of conflict of interest, we have changed the previous practice, to ensure that investigators focus without hindrance on finding the facts and bringing justice to victims of crime.
“Going forward, in any incident involving a student at the University, KPD will make formal notification only to UT law enforcement, as required by state law and as part of our ongoing interdepartmental cooperation.”
The city of Knoxville is reviewing potential legal issues related to a “long standing practice” where Knoxville Police Department officials notify University of Tennessee administrators in advance if a student athlete is the subject of a criminal investigation.
KPD Chief David Rausch has said that such “professional courtesy” calls were placed to UT athletics officials to allow them time to “prepare responses to the various interests” since many high-profile cases come under scrutiny.
It’s unknown if Mayor Madeline Rogero knew about the practice before a recent report by the Tennessean showed that Rausch and a KPD detective made “professional courtesy” calls to UT football head coach Butch Jones and other team leaders in the early stages of a sexual assault investigation. Jones, in turn, called players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, tipping them off hours in advance that police were investigating them on allegations of rape.
Both Rogero and Rausch declined interview requests for this story. A spokesman for the city cited the pending law department review. A KPD spokesman referenced an earlier statement made by Rausch in response to questions from the Tennessean, the Nashville newspaper that first unearthed evidence of the “professional courtesy” notifications after conducting an extensive review of phone records obtained under Tennessee’s Open Records Act.
Such courtesy calls are not unheard of, but they typically do not happen so early in a police investigation. In this case, Johnson and Williams were told about the pending investigation roughly four hours before their first interview with police.
The Knox County District Attorney’s Office has already come out against the practice, noting it may violate state law. In a written statement, Assistant District Attorney Sean McDermott declined to discuss specifics of the case but said: “In any case, however, [District Attorney] General [Charme] Allen opposes pre-arrest notification to any person or agency that is not made in furtherance of the investigation … A pre-arrest disclosure of sensitive information that is not made for the purpose of advancing the criminal investigation potentially could violate state law regarding the misuse of official information.”
In an email, city spokesman Eric Vreeland said Mayor Rogero will not be available to answer specific questions until the review has concluded.
Rausch’s statement in full: “When we investigate an alleged crime involving an athlete at UT, as a professional courtesy, our long standing practice has been that we alert the head Coach and staff. At no time is any information shared with the university that would hinder or jeopardize any investigation. The purpose of the notification is due to the scrutiny these events bring to allow appropriate time to prepare responses to the various interests. Our paramount concern at KPD is to the victims and their families and to assure them that we will utilize every resource available to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation. That is our commitment to all citizens that we serve. Chief David Rausch”
Featured photo by Clay Duda
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