Nashville’s police oversight agency says law enforcement officials have denied their requests for a 911 call that sparked a fatal police chase in May.
In an email to Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes Thursday, community oversight director Jill Fitcheard said she was alarmed to hear the tape for the first time in a WPLN News story.
“Our office will continue its investigation into the matter,” she said, adding, “but the need for better communication, transparency and unfettered access to records has been the greatest obstacle for the MNCO [Metro Nashville Community Oversight] to carry out its mandated duties as an oversight agency that investigates issues pertaining to police misconduct.”
WPLN News requested the tape the day after the May 21 incident, which left a white, off-duty police officer injured and a Black man dead. Officials released the recording to the station last week.
In the tape, the officer tells a dispatcher three times that he thinks a white man shot him. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Disputes over records have played a central role in the tense relationship between MNCO — the Metro agency that supports the Community Oversight Board — and the Metro Nashville Police Department. They’re also at the heart of ongoing negotiations over an updated memorandum of understanding between the two departments.
The icy relationship has largely thawed since Interim Chief John Drake replaced former Chief Steve Anderson last month. At an August COB meeting, Drake promised to support the board, especially given the overwhelming voter support for its establishment.
But, when a board member informed the interim chief then that the agency’s request for the 911 call had been denied and asked for help, Drake said it was up to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to decide if they wanted to hand over the tape. (The TBI investigates all fatal shootings by Nashville police).
“We’re not privy, and they don’t give any information out until their investigation is concluded,” Drake said, suggesting that oversight staff get in touch directly with the TBI. “They are very tight-lipped.”
On Twitter, Mendes said he was frustrated that the COB “is stuck playing catch-up.”
“The Community Oversight board is supposed to be getting information as soon as it’s lawfully able to get it,” he told WPLN News. “The reality is, we have a charter-created, voter-supported branch of the Metropolitan government that can’t — we can’t manage as a city to architect a way for them to get information at the earliest possible time.”
Mendes said the city’s law enforcement agencies should have already found a way to work with the Community Oversight Board. He wants Mayor John Cooper to make cooperation between the COB and Metro Police a priority for the department’s next chief.
“Getting the process questions ironed out is just a matter of wanting it badly enough,” Mendes said. “I am very hopeful that the mayor makes that a critical mission item for the new chief.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.