Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash has closed his investigation of several allegations made in a formal complaint filed against Lebanon Police Chief Mike Justice, Maj. Koy Lafferty and Public Information Officer PJ Hardy by an officer in the department.
Lebanon Police Lt. Scott Massey filed the complaint against Justice, Hardy and Lafferty that claimed instances of questionable, and potentially illegal, activities, some of which are many years old.
Justice responded to each allegation and also summarized them in a written statement to Ash and Lebanon Human Resources Director Sylvia Reichle. Both Justice and Lafferty also offered documented memorandums as evidence against some of the allegations.
Ash delivered his response to Massey’s allegations following an investigation that included responses from Justice and Lafferty, interviews with at least one witness, and criminal and financial investigations from agent Russ Winkler of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Lebanon Finance Director Stuart Lawson.
Ash determined that seven of the allegations are “unsubstantiated”, one was “substantiated” and gave Justice new procedures for behavior addressed in two of the claims.
City Attorney Andy Wright said that allegations of irregularities in the department’s drug seizure and forfeiture process was the basis of the initial complaint. Wright said that the city found no evidence of misconduct in that area but that the state comptroller’s office is still reviewing that part of the complaint.
Both Justice and Lafferty remain on active duty, according to city officials.
The allegations that Ash concluded as “unsubstantiated” include:
• A claim that a trailer seized as part of a federal drug investigation was at Justice’s property and then was sold. Ash said that records indicate that the trailer awarded to LPD from the federal drug case was properly disposed of in accordance with state law and was auctioned through the website GovDeals.com, which is approved by the state.
• A claim that Lafferty in 2018 ordered to two officers to put ammunition into Justice’s vehicle for personal use. Ash said “Both Chief Justice and Major Lafferty denied this allegation in total. Lt. Massey states ammunition logs exist, but field to provide any credible evidence that the ammunition logs were incorrect, falsified, or otherwise corroborated his allegation.”
• A claim Justice instructed an officer to take a load of mulch to Justice’s home for landscaping prior to a family wedding using a city-owned vehicle. According to Ash, Justice said that the wedding occurred at Fiddlers Grove, not at his home. Justice said he did purchase a trailer of mulch, forgot his credit card and asked another officer to make the purchase for him. He said the officer delivered the mulch, and Justice reimbursed the officer. Ash said Massey did not provide any credible evidence to support the allegation.
• A claim that an LPD policy violation occurred when Justice discovered a letter that would allow an employee to remain at his current job site instead of moving to the new Lebanon Police Department facility on Tennessee Boulevard. Ash wrote “Even if taken as true, the location of LPD facilities and LPD employees is of no concern of Lt. Massey.”
• Claims that Lafferty “has committed acts (from 2012-2013) that could have gotten him arrested and decommissioned, but instead he has received promotion after promotion, when he should never have been eligible to apply.” Ash said information provided, even if taken as true, is outside of any criminal statute of limitations for prosecution, lacks any documentation for investigation, and is based solely on the uncorroborated hearsay of a former LPD employee.
• A claim that in 2012-2013, a detective discovered a confidential informant was stealing product used to lure other criminals through sting operations. When confronted about the issue, which could cause several cases to be called into question because of the informants’ credibility, Lafferty ordered the drugs to be destroyed. Ash said that the only incident Lafferty recalled involving that narcotics officer occurred in 2007 or 2008 “and did not resemble Massey’s recollection.”
• A claim that Lafferty threw a cell phone at another office in 2013 after the officer brought a prisoner into the same room as Lafferty for questioning. Ash said that Lafferty denied the incident took place, and there is no documentation or corroborating evidence to refute his denial.
Ash instructed Justice about future procedures regarding two of the allegations.
• A claim that Justice keeps his personal dog at the city-owned kennels and has department employees feed it while he is away. Justice said the dog is intended to replace the current department K-9 when it retires.
Ash said “This allegation is substantiated in part and unsubstantiated in part. Chief Justice has a personally owned K-9 (German shepherd) that is being trained in-house by LPD officers for potential service to the LPD.” Ash said Justice denied the city ever paid for any food for his dog, but asked Wright to research any potential liability issues regarding a personally owned K-9 being placed into service with LPD. Ash said he instructed Justice to stop using city resources for housing and training of the K-9 until liability issues are resolved.
Ash said the matter remained open.
• A claim that Justice drove a city-owned Ford Expedition and the motor locked up. He instructed an employee to change the oil before he took it to the Ford dealership to avoid a warranty void because it was not properly maintained. Another employee witnessed it.
Ash said Justice admitted he regularly missed regularly scheduled oil changes on his vehicle, but denied the omissions caused unnecessary and costly repairs. Ash said he counseled Justice about vehicle maintenance and closed the matter.
In the only allegation that Ash found “substantiated”:
• Hardy made “embarrassing” remarks about a fellow officer’s weight during the 2019 department Christmas Party about the employee’s weight gain in front of 200 to 250 people. No action was taken against Hardy. Ash said Justice counseled Hardy about refraining from making such remarks about Lebanon police personnel in the future, was satisfied with Justice’s response and considered the matter closed.