Editorial: Though three ex-cops not charged, there are other ways to define punishment
While it’s easy to think that the legal system failed the public by not charging the three dismissed Pigeon Forge policemen with a crime, the facts of the case seem to justify the lack of an arrest of the former officers.
District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn took evidence against three former officers before a grand jury Tuesday, but the grand jury declined to return a presentment against them. Presumably Dunn presented the evidence, told the grand jurors what the law says and let the jurors make the decision. They agreed with Dunn, the U.S. Attorney’s office and other legal experts in determining that what the men did was reprehensible and certainly warranted their being fired, but did not meet the standards of a criminal conspiracy.
The grand jury was given evidence from the Pigeon Forge Police Department’s investigation into ex-policemen Trinity Brown, Jefferson Thigpen and Michael Musgrove. The investigation resulted in the dismissal of the officers after a supervisor discovered a recorded conversation in which the three talked about killing Baldwin, other supervisors and the patrolmen from the morning shift.
“Even though they were sitting there talking about killing people ... we haven’t found there was any overt action taken,” Dunn said. State law is explicit that “no person may be convicted of conspiracy to commit an offense, unless an overt act in pursuance of the conspiracy is alleged and proven to have been done by the person or by another with whom the person conspired.”
In the recording, taken from a microphone mounted with the dash cam of one of the officers, the three can be heard talking about supervisors and members of the day shift, and about the idea of shooting them at the police department, and how they might got about it. The three released a statement last week saying that they were upset by the way the department handled their case, that they didn’t deserve to be fired, and that the case shouldn’t have been brought to the public’s attention. Maybe so, and that may signal that legal action against the city looms, but it’s hard to argue that the men deserved to remain on the force. You can’t have a police department populated with people who harbor thoughts as these three did and openly discuss those thoughts while on duty.
There is no reason to suggest anyone in authority is protecting the three men, refusing to prosecute them for other than sound interpretation of the law. It would be wrong to think the men are not being prosecuted because they were officers of the law. They disgraced their badges and uniforms. The humiliation they have suffered with public exposure of their “chats” is not insignificant.
The state law on conspiracy is written to protect people who are merely mouthing off or expressing anger in unfortunate terms. There is a reason we don’t arrest people who, when feeling wronged, say something like, “I’m gonna kill that guy” or “I could wring his neck.” Every parent would be behind bars if that were the standard.
There are many ways to determine what sufficient punishment may be in a given case. These guys did not escape punishment.