(Memphis) The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is the state’s premier law enforcement agency.
Its motto: Truth, Bravery and Integrity.
However, the one characteristic that’s missing is transparent.
After months of trying to get certain controversial TBI files, the On Your Side Investigators ran into road blocks each time.
The TBI is called in to investigate some of the most high profile of cases, WREG found that’s when the cloud of secrecy begins and often it’s never lifted.
The TBI is a public agency yet keeps more secrets than any other division in the state. In Memphis and Shelby County the agency is called in to assist local police and sheriff’s agencies in criminal investigations.
Many of those involve the powerful and those connected to the inner circles of government.
“There are a lot of things that I still don’t know,” said Shirley Thompson, mother of 15-year-old shooting victim Justin.
Off duty Memphis cop, Terrance Shaw, shot and killed Justin last year.
TBI spent months investigating but we will likely never know what the TBI found.
There was no trial, and by law, the report is sealed forever.
“TBI’s investigative reports are confidential and can’t be released without a subpoena or court order so we have to follow that law. It’s as simple as that,” said Kristin Helm, TBI spokesperson.
The On Your Side Investigators found even when there is a trial, and TBI records are used as evidence, the files can still be kept secret.
“Think of what we could get done in this state, if the public knew what was going on,” said Attorney Herbert Moncier.
Knoxville lawyer, Herbert Moncier, is challenging that law.
Moncier said, “It’s your government, it’s my government. It doesn’t belong to some people in Nashville. It doesn’t belong to the people in the TBI that want to keep things secret. It’s our government.”
The district attorney must ask the TBI to investigate a case. Some say once that happens, it`s almost like a shield, blocking the public from getting answers.
WREG asked her how many cases had she sent to the TBI since she’s been lead prosecutor for the county.
“I cannot imagine it’s been more than a half dozen,” said Amy Weirich, Shelby Co. District Attorney.
When the TBI investigated the beating of Assistant Shelby County prosecutor Kate Edmands inside her own home, what they found was also never revealed.
Nobody knows why her boss, District Attorney General Amy Weirich sent the case to the TBI forever keeping the facts secret.
She calls it a case by case basis and protecting the powerful and shutting out the public is never her intention.
“We’ve indicted plenty of elected officials. Plenty of well known individuals in this community. That does not play a role in the tough decisions we have to make,” said Weirich.
Weirich says the secrecy is often necessary even when the case is closed. It may get solved in the future.
She said, “You don’t want to jeopardize what might become a viable prosecution by making all this information known to the community and also to protect people.”
Memphis state representative John Deberry is one of the few people outside law enforcement to ever get a look at one of the secret TBI files.
“We knew when we were doing this, we were in new territory,” said Rep. Deberry.
Deberry is part of a judicial oversight committee looking into TBI findings involving misconduct of an East Tennessee district attorney.
Rep. Deberry said, “We kind of recommended there be some continued investigations.”
That oversight committee is now trying to get the prosecutor removed from office. This action comes after he was initially cleared.
Which leaves us to ask, should TBI records be made public?
Moncier said, “The public is the power to make the government respond to perform its duties. Are people going to be embarrassed in the process? You’re damn right they are. They should be.”
Rep. Deberry said, “I can’t say anything conclusively. I think the discussion is out there. Folks like yourself are going to continue to ask these questions representing the public’s interest which is good.”
Deberry says he’d like to have more transparency and says it’s going to become more and more difficult to tell the public, no. However, as of now, nobody plans on trying to change the law.