Chattanooga police officer under investigation for allegedly drinking while in possession of a city vehicle
A veteran police officer and former spokesperson for the Chattanooga Police Department is on modified duty and under investigation for allegedly drinking while in possession of a city vehicle.
Channel 3 received numerous calls and e-mails from viewers asking us to look into this story.
It wasn't easy locating information about the incident back in February that launched an internal affairs investigation.
Lt. Craig Joel's name was left out of the report which was filed by a Hamilton County deputy.
For the last four months, we've been asking why Joel, who is a well-known face for the department, is on modified duty.
A 911 call and personnel records obtained by Channel 3 help answer the questions that no one is willing to answer.
"There's a gentleman, in a black Ford car, I believe it is. He's fallen over drunk," the caller reported to 911 on February 2, 2018.
The caller, an employee at Amigo's off Highway 58, called to report an intoxicated man inside what she identified as a police car.
"I'm pretty sure it may be an undercover police car. I'm pretty sure there's lights on the front of it," the caller stated. "He's laying down in the car seat now. I don't know if he's going to try and start his car or what?"
The Chattanooga Police Department confirms the man in the car was Lt. Craig Joel, a 20-year department veteran, who served as the department's public information officer and president of the Chattanooga Fire and Police Pension Fund Board.
A spokesperson also confirms the black Ford Fusion named in the report is a city-owned vehicle.
The responding officer noted Joel "appeared to be extremely intoxicated," but he did not pursue charges because he only saw Joel outside the car.
The officer turned Joel over to the Chattanooga Police Department which placed Joel on a two week paid leave. He's been on modified duty since then, pending an internal affairs investigation.
This is not the first time Joel has been involved in an incident involving alcohol and a city vehicle.
In 2004, he was suspended without pay for five days after a crash involving his patrol car.
He was found not at fault for causing the crash, but a breathalyzer showed his blood alcohol content was .09 percent, which is over the legal limit of .08 percent.
He was not charged but did lose his take-home car privileges for four months and was required to attend counseling.
The current investigation, which launched in February, remains open.
It's not clear if Joel will be on the force when it concludes.
According to meeting minutes, in April, Joel resigned from the Chattanooga Fire and Police Pension Fund Board and applied for job-related disability.
Channel 3 has requested a copy of that application to learn more.
Joel declined our request for an interview but tells Channel 3 he is now on medical leave pending retirement.
The pension board, that he once led, will determine if Joel gets retirement benefits.
A spokesperson for the Chattanooga Police Department tells Channel 3 the internal affairs investigation will continue even if Joel retires before it is completed.
We wanted to know why the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office left Joel's name, tag number and other key information out of its report.
They tell Channel 3 it is not uncommon for information to be omitted from a report when there are no charges filed.
Stay with Channel 3 for updates on this story.
In Joel's time with the Chattanooga Police Department, there have been seven internal affairs investigations opened against him. An action was taken in five of those cases, including one last year when the police chief asked for an investigation into a picture Joel posted on Facebook of a female WRCB employee on assignment at the police department. Joel received a letter of reprimand in that case.