The highest ranking Black female officer in the Metro Nashville Police Department has turned in her badge after nearly 28 years. Her reason: she couldn’t take what she calls the “toxic” and retaliatory culture any longer.
Her departure comes amid heightened scrutiny of MNPD leadership, as a new chief takes over on the heels of multiple allegations of misconduct against the department. And her story mirrors how many minority employees say they are treated within a department whose sworn staff is 82% white and 89% male.
Captain Dhana Jones decided to retire in September, shortly after the advocacy group Silent No Longer TN uncovered dozens of accusations of gender- and race-based discrimination within the department.
The newly public allegations — ranging from racist comments to sexual assault — didn’t surprise Jones. The former captain says she’s often felt like an outcast as a Black woman in MNPD, which she says is run by a predominantly white, male club.
“I’ve been the only woman — the highest-ranking minority woman — by myself for so many years,” Jones says. “And I have had no one, no one, who I can communicate with.”
MNPD records show that Jones is one of the few Black women who has risen through the ranks. She’s led some of the department’s highest stakes units, including domestic violence and special operations. For years, she says, she did her job and kept to herself.
But when Jones was assigned to run the Youth Services Division in 2017, she noticed some unsettling things. Confidential juvenile records left out in the open. No licensed therapists to counsel troubled kids.
So Jones started making changes. She hired a counselor, updated employees’ job descriptions to meet accreditation standards and reminded team members to ensure that they were filing paperwork correctly.
Then Jones was transferred out.
“It’s like I’ve been shunned, I’ve been pushed aside,” she says. “I mean, to me, it’s really, really toxic.”
Jones says she was forced from her position for trying to modernize the division. But some members of the unit told human resources they felt like she was trying to push them out by creating a hostile work environment.
An internal investigation dragged on for seven months. Eventually, MNPD’s Human Resources Division faulted her for poor communication.
But records show the department didn’t formally discipline her right away. Instead, the department sent her to the Archives Division, where she spent about a year staring at a computer screen in a small, windowless room. She went from mentoring juvenile runaways and overseeing child abuse investigations to reviewing paperwork. Jones says they made her feel like she had no place at the department.
“What they did to me was horrible,” she says. “They berated me. They talked to me like I was less than a human. They told me everything about myself inside is wrong.”
This fall, Jones announced her retirement. It was only then that MNPD suspended her for one day — nearly two years after HR opened its investigation.
Jones denies the allegations against her. But she says she got tired of fighting to defend her reputation. So, after almost three decades with the department, she packed up her desk, sold her house and moved out of state.
“I’m out of there now,” she says, her voice catching during a phone call in October. “I’m crying with joy, because my life has changed now that I’m out of there. That’s how bad it was.”
‘The numbers are not there’
Interviews with more than a dozen current and former minority employees reveal a pattern for those who claim they have paid a price for challenging the status quo. Some are disciplined or passed over for promotions. Others leave when they can’t take the stress any longer.
The problem is particularly pronounced for Black women, who make up less than 2% of the department’s sworn staff. Only five have been promoted in the past decade. Two of them — including Jones — have since retired. Another has been demoted.
“The numbers are not there,” says Reggie Miller, president of Nashville’s chapter of the National Black Police Association. “It’s systemic, because that’s the way that the system has been doing for a long time. So, systematically, they know that if we only hire X amount that we’re also going to lose X amount, and the numbers pretty much stay the same or probably even lower.”
Police spokesperson Kris Mumford says MNPD, like many departments across the country, has struggled to recruit new officers. However, she says, “for years we have made it our mission to attract a diverse, qualified pool of applicants.” That includes a partnership with Tennessee State University, a local historically Black college, and efforts to encourage minority officers to go through the promotion process.
But Miller has spent years representing Black officers who say they’ve been discriminated against. And it’s a feeling he knows well. In 1992, Miller made national headlines when a group of white officers beat him up while he was working undercover for the department.
Miller says the odds are stacked against them every step of their careers — from hiring to special assignments to promotions. And speaking up can come at a cost.
“Sometimes we just have to make do with our supervisor, and you kind of go along to get along,” he says. “When you stand up to them, you know, now you’re being rebellious. You know, you’re just being disrespectful. You’re being all of those things. Then you get labelled.”
Determined to spark change
That’s what former officer Monica Blake says happened to her. She’s one of the few who has publicly criticized MNPD’s culture.
And, like Jones, Blake says she faced retaliation for standing up to her co-workers.
“It wasn’t until I started calling people out by name that I got backlash from any of the officers,” Blake says. “And that’s just because they were all part of the same ‘good ol’ boys’ system and wanted to protect their friends.”
In 2018, Blake filed a federal lawsuit against the department, alleging that she faced retaliation for reporting that a co-worker choked and raped her. He later resigned and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. Blake’s suit against the department was settled in 2019 for $150,000.
“Part of what made me become so vocal is that I knew I was not the only officer who had been attacked, and I knew I was not the only officer who had endured retaliation and discrimination and experienced sexism and the harassment,” she says.
MNPD and state agents have launched investigations into multiple allegations of misconduct within the department. Mumford says some, including complaints of sexual assault, have been determined to be untrue. In some cases, she says, law enforcement officials were unable to investigate, because accusers did not provide enough details. Many employees filed their complaints anonymously.
Blake says that’s common for police officers, even those who feel they’ve been gravely mistreated. She says many officers worry that speaking up could cost them their job or subject them to retaliation. So, they stay silent.
But that didn’t feel like an option for Blake.
“If I didn’t speak up and say something, then I was condoning that behavior,” she says. “And, if it happened to someone else, I felt like it would have fallen on me.”
Blake is determined to spark change for those she’s left behind at the department. She wants MNPD to be a place where officers can raise concerns and trust that their complaints will be taken seriously.
“The actual attack itself was horrific. But the fact that I had to fight a police department for justice I never received, that is probably the most heartbreaking part,” Blake says. “I called on the good guys to show up and do their job, and the good guys never showed up.”
You can send tips for this investigation to Samantha Max at [email protected]