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Governor to top cop:
Stop 'intimidating' protesters

Tennessee anti-war demonstrators complained of 'Gestapo' tactics

Posted: March 18, 2003
1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Tony Hays

After a firestorm of protest over the actions of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents at a March 5 peace protest on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen demanded that TBI Director Larry Wallace change the agency's policies concerning surveillance of public assemblies.

Wallace, whose tenure as director has been highly controversial, sent undercover agents to the protest, which drew several hundred participants, to gather information. Greg Elliott, a 17-year veteran of the TBI, approached several speakers, identified himself as a TBI agent and demanded the correct spelling of their names, their addresses and other personal information. One protestor told WND, "I felt like I was confronted by the Gestapo. I was literally afraid and horribly concerned."

''I told them I wanted a firm, written policy to define parameters under which they would monitor and make sure it is even-handed,'' Bredesen told the Nashville Tennessean newspaper.

Wallace complied.

According to a TBI press release, the new policy states, ''Agents will not be assigned to lawful assemblies where no criminal activity is suspected, unless their presence is requested by a federal law-enforcement agency for purposes such as dignitary protection.'' The policy also calls for multiple supervisory approvals

Another conflict surfaced when TBI legal counsel David Jennings announced that all documents collected at the March 5 rally at MTSU had been destroyed.

''I resent the fact that this information was collected by a state employee on the state payroll, and they're not saying what was in those reports,'' complained State Rep. Joe Fowlkes, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, according to a report in the Tennessean.

State Rep. Frank Buck, the former long-term chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told WTVF-TV in Nashville, ''I doubt the agent was acting without the bureau's knowledge or consent. There's more to this than meets the eye. It didn't happen by accident.''

Longtime TBI observers such as ethics specialist Grover Porter, a retired professor from Tennessee State University, are pointing to the incident as just another reason why the maverick agency needs legislative oversight. Such an oversight body, Porter told WND, "should be authorized to recommend discipline of TBI officials for improper behavior, and even removal of the director if that becomes necessary for the good of the agency."

Wallace's questionable activities as TBI director have been the subject of numerous news reports, including close scrutiny by WND, over the past several years. Wallace and Jennings admitted to the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies that they destroyed evidence without proper court orders in 1994 and again in 1997 in order to pass the CALEA accreditation review. In January 2001, a security guard at the TBI's new, state-of-the-art headquarters in Nashville broke into the evidence locker with a wire coat hanger and stole 24 kilos of cocaine being held as evidence. It has also been widely alleged that Wallace has used his position to block investigations of politically influential people in Tennessee.

Bredesen, traveling the state to tout his new budget plan, told gathered reporters about the March 5 incident: ''These were not outside agitators. These were our own kids. We're not in the business of intimidating people.''

Previous story:

'Gestapo' tactics at anti-war rally?

An experienced print journalist, Tony Hays is the coauthor of WND's 18-part "Tennessee Underworld" series on Al Gore. His recent 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.

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