More reaction from local law enforcement on detective's Ooltewah testimony
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will soon launch an investigation into Gatlinburg Police Detective Rodney Burns. This comes at the request of Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston. He asked the TBI to investigate a perjury allegation and inconsistencies between Burns' incident report and what he said on the stand Monday in Hamilton County Juvenile Court about the Ooltewah rape case.
Channel 3 interviewed a local police chief about how Burns' words go against how officers are trained to understand sex crimes.
Cleveland Police Chief Mark Gibson says the comments made by Gatlinburg Detective Rodney Burns are a bad reflection on all law enforcement. He says there needs to be a serious review of how Burns conducted the investigation into the attack.
In the meantime, Gibson says it opens the door for serious conversations to happen on how to treat sexual assault cases.
"I was completely taken back. And I thought I was listening to maybe an expert witness from the defense," says Cleveland Police Chief Mark Gibson.
"It wasn't sexual in nature. It was an assault, really. It just happened that the end result met the definition of aggravated rape. You know what I mean?" said Rodney Burns in court, Monday.
"You should never let your feelings, personal feelings or opinions get involved," says Chief Gibson.
Chief Mark Gibson says members of his department could not believe some of the things Gatlinburg Police Detective Rodney Burns said while on the stand Monday.
"We had a lot of conversations about it. A lot of them were shocked by what they heard. This is just not something that is typical," says Gibson.
"What this case actually is, is much smaller than what it's been blown up to be," said Burns, Monday.
"He involved too much of his opinion. He made excuses for the offenders and that's not his job," says Chief Gibson.
Gibson says it is clear Burns had little concern for what the victim is going through.
"It's not just an investigation, it's being able to show that compassion, that empathy for the victim and have an understanding of what that person may go through."
Gibson is not surprised by the reaction from other law enforcement agencies.
"I applaud Chief Fred Fletcher for his comments. I think he took a step to say what needed to be said," says Chief Gibson.
Fletcher spoke out on his Facebook page Tuesday, saying in part: "The allegations being adjudicated against several young men in our community constitute rape. Not simply hazing, or bullying, or teasing, or horseplay. Rape. A violent crime."
Gibson hopes Burns' testimony does not shed a negative light on police investigators as a whole.
"It was very disappointing to me, knowing what efforts that we do in this area and East Tennessee to make sure that we treat all of our victims with the proper respect and dignity that they deserve. It's a setback when you're talking about trusting law enforcement," says Chief Gibson.
Gibson says his detectives train at least twice a year with sexual assault advocacy groups in addition to in-service training.
As for Rodney Burns, Channel 3 spoke to him by phone briefly Wednesday. He was unaware of the district attorney's request for the TBI to investigate his testimony, until we told him. He referred us to the Sevier County DA who has yet to return our calls.
Response from Chattanooga Police Department on sex crimes training:
"Since Chief Fletcher took office the Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) has been under going a full restructure to facilitate a more modernized and supportive policing structure and method.
Part of this restructure has been to create a stronger focus on victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape.
In the early part of 2015 the Chief restructured the Major Crimes division into two categories: Violent Crimes and the Special Victims Unit (SVU). The SVU, while not limited to domestic violence and sexual assault, will have a strong focus on this area of violence. This unit investigates and prosecutes sexual assaults. Once the permanent location of the Family Justice Center is open, there are plans to house this unit there to further strengthen this focus and encourage ease of coordinating efforts and services for victims.
Investigators with the SVU have received an abundance of training specific to sex crimes and domestic violence and continue to receive supplemental training.
Additionally, back in October of 2015 CPD initiated – with the help/input of over 60 community members – the CPRVV (Community and Police Response to Victims of Violence) initiative. This process is a partnership between investigators, officers, clergy, social workers and/or influentials who meet with victims of violence to better inform them on the investigative process and the support services available. While previously this initiative had been limited to victims of shootings and homicide CPD has expanded this initiative into all types of victims of violence including sexual assault.
It is also important to note that Chattanooga was one of three cities in the nation to be awarded the Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims (ELERV) grant by the Department of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police to better support this mission department wide by providing resources and education.
As you can see, upon Chief Fletcher's arrival, a new precedent was set on how we support and help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as a department and as a city."