Nashville Police Chief John Drake is defending the investigative work by his department, and he says he thinks they essentially did all they were legally allowed to do in August 2019 when warned about downtown bomber Anthony Warner.
“Officers didn’t take it lightly,” Drake said Wednesday. “They had no basis for a search warrant or a subpoena … the officers couldn’t do anymore at that point.”
The chief spoke after the latest revelation about the Christmas morning bombing and a day after local reporters shared a previously undisclosed incident report. It shows that Warner’s girlfriend told police that Warner was building bombs in his RV.
An attorney who had represented Warner and the girlfriend also backed that claim, telling authorities that he thought Warner was capable of building a bomb.
After trying to reach Warner for several days — and sharing information to the FBI — local police discontinued their investigation the following week.
In taking questions, Drake said several times that his officers didn’t have permission to enter Warner’s home or his RV. In one moment, though, he left open another possibility.
“I believe the officers did everything they could, legally. Maybe we could have followed up a little more. Hindsight is 20/20,” Drake said.
The FBI issued a statement saying that it responded to Metro Nashville Police’s request that it check its holding for information on Warner and found no records at all. The agency says it also inquired with the Department of Defense.
Joel Siskovic, an FBI spokesman, also told The Tennessean that there was no report of a crime.
“The FBI does not make a practice of investigating and looking into individuals absent criminal charges, criminal allegations,” Siskovic told the newspaper. “So, I can’t get too far into how our system works, but basically if there had been any reason to believe that there was a crime, specifically a federal crime, then we would have taken further steps.”
What the chief knew, and when
The chief provided a sparse timeline of when he learned about the 2019 incident and what was occurring before the information became public.
Drake says he didn’t realize there was a 2019 encounter until Sunday night, late into the third day of the bombing investigation.
“I had no knowledge of it until Sunday evening, Sunday evening late. So our senior staff started looking into it. We needed to have more information to research exactly what it was,” Drake said.
It’s unclear when officers first drew a connection to the 2019 incident. A member of the hazardous devices unit, Officer Kevin Pollard, had been to Warner’s home in 2019 and has also been working the Christmas morning explosion, according to Drake.
Once the chief knew of the prior report, it was two days until the department’s first public acknowledgment of it. That happened Tuesday night after local reporters filed requests for public records. The department also shared a narrative — not included in the police report — seeking to explain why the investigation was concluded about a week after Warner came to its attention.
Drake says his staff was also slowed by AT&T outages and a flood of calls inquiries from media around the world.
At the same time, police have been putting out material, like surveillance images, body camera footage from officers and audio of 911 calls. The department also convened the six officers who aided in the evacuation for a media event.
Drake says police are still looking into the 2019 case.
Some details elusive
The chief, who was named the department’s permanent leader on Nov. 30, said the bombing has exposed that his department doesn’t have an officer on a joint anti-terrorism task force run by the FBI.
Drake said he is likely to assign someone to that team.
The chief did not have updates about Warner’s motive, or the materials used in the explosive.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper released a statement following the chief’s comments:
“We must learn from this tragedy. We have a responsibility to take a deep look at what law enforcement could or should have done better. Then, we must be transparent with Nashville about those findings,” Cooper said. “Chief Drake has committed to getting those answers through an open, professional process and to giving me a full report.”
Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from the FBI.
Reported earlier Wednesday
Nashville Police Chief John Drake will speak at 2:30 Wednesday afternoon in the wake of local reporters uncovering an incident report that shows local police were warned about downtown bomber Anthony Warner in August 2019.
The report recounts how the man’s girlfriend told police that Warner was building bombs in his RV trailer. An attorney who had represented Warner and the girlfriend also backed that claim, telling authorities that he thought Warner was capable of building a bomb.
Law enforcement has been questioned about prior warnings and contacts, but had not indicated such an investigation. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told news outlets Warner wasn’t on its radar and Nashville’s police chief said no threat had been made against the city.
However, the report shows Nashville police went to his home in August 2019 and shared information to the FBI, but ultimately did not make contact with Warner before discontinuing the investigation the following week.
The Christmas morning bomb exploded on 2nd Avenue North just before 6:30 a.m. Friday, injuring at least seven people, killing Warner, damaging a historic row of buildings and infrastructure and causing a multi-state phone and internet outage.