Tennessee Cops Posed as a Defense Attorney to Get Suspect To Incriminate Himself

Posted: March 9th, 2011 by Militant Libertarian

from The Agitator

Here’s a whopper of an opinion (PDF) from the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

It seems that in 2008, Monroe County Sheriff’s Detectives Doug Brannon and Pat Henry actually posed as a federal defense attorney in an attempt to get incriminating information out of suspect John Edward Dawson, who was in jail on a host of charges, including theft and drug distribution. Not only that, but in doing so, they also talked Dawson into refusing to cooperate with his public defender and to plead guilty to the charges against him. They communicated with Dawson via a jailhouse informant.

Dawson’s public defender was so taken aback by his assurances to her that he had a “federal lawyer” who had worked out all of his charges, that she actually asked for a psychiatric evaluation. When all this came to light, Dawson’s (real) attorney asked for a continuance in his case so she could assess the damage. Remarkably, Tennessee Tenth Judicial Judge Amy Reedy refused the request, ruling that Dawson made “a real dumb decision” and that he had “picked his poison.”

The appeals court disagreed.

[T]he conduct of the law enforcement officers in this case, and in particular Detective Henry, is so egregious that it simply cannot go unchecked.  That Detective Henry would illegally pose as an attorney and arrange the circumstances of the defendant’s case to make it appear as though he had successfully undertaken legal representation of the defendant is abhorrent.  That the detective would specifically instruct the defendant not to communicate the relationship to his appointed counsel, in what we can only assume was an effort to enlarge the time for the detective to gain incriminating information from the defendant, renders completely reprehensible the state action in this case.  Given the unconscionable behavior of the state actors in this case and the fact that the defendant was essentially prevented from proving prejudice through no fault of his own, we have no trouble concluding that the only appropriate remedy in this case is the dismissal of all the indictments.

According to KnoxNews.com, Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens and DA Steven Bebb had some knowledge of the ruse, but did nothing to stop it.

During a hearing on the issue, Sheriff Bivens testified that he was vaguely aware of Henry’s plot and did not see “a problem with it,” adding, however that “if it’s illegal, of course, I don’t want to do it.” Bivens did not order a probe of Henry’s actions or take any disciplinary action; nor did Bebb initiate charges of impersonating a lawyer.

Instead, Bebb successfully persuaded Judge Reedy to overlook it all.

Accountability tally: Henry apparently now works as a securities investigator for Regions Bank. From what I can tell, Brannon still works for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Reedy, Bivens, and Bebb are all still on the job.

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