Drug Fund Pays For Bulldozer Shipped To Chief's Land
MONTEREY, Tenn. -- NewsChannel 5's continuing "Policing for Profit" investigation has uncovered new questions about how government equipment ended up on land owned by the local police chief.
Now, as a result of those questions, District Attorney General Randy York of Cookeville has called in the TBI to investigate.
At the center of the investigation is money spent out of the drug fund at the Monterey Police Department in Putnam County. That's the agency that, our investigation discovered, took $22,000 off a New Jersey man during a routine traffic stop along I-40. The officer seized the cash based on his suspicions that it might be drug money.
In this case, NewsChannel 5's investigation began with questions about a U.S. Army surplus bulldozer, which Monterey police had shipped in using money from the town's drug fund.
Sky5HD had spotted the bulldozer just a few days after it was delivered back in early June to some mountaintop property in nearby Overton County. (View Sky5HD video above.) Area residents told NewsChannel 5 they'd heard what had sounded like a bulldozer hard at work, although that could not be confirmed.
That property is owned by Monterey Police Chief Kevin Phillips.
So what was government equipment doing on private land?
After the chief refused to return our phone call, we went to police headquarters, but Chief Phillips wasn't there.
So we knocked on the door at his home.
Again, no one answered.
Then, just as we were leaving, one of his vehicles suddenly cut across the yard and sped away.
Still, our search wasn't over.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates had been told that the chief has been spending some time at a cabin down a little one-lane dirt road. So we followed the trail to see if we can get some answers, but it was another dead end.
The chief was nowhere to be seen.
Back at the Monterey Municipal Building in Putnam County we got the chief on the phone, when we suddenly found ourselves being detained by Overton County deputies said they were investigating a complaint from the chief that he was being harassed.
"You're from Overton County?" we asked the officers.
"Yes," one of the replied.
"You don't jurisdiction here, sir," we told them, later insisting: "Gentlemen, either you need to arrest us or you need to let us go."
And with that, the officers decided to back off.
"Dodging questions and then not giving you a direct answer when you ask a question, [it] really raises a lot of suspicion on what's going on," said former Monterey alderman Richard Smith.
Smith also has been trying to get answers. He also took photos of the bulldozer on Chief Phillips' property.
"So why would the chief have a bulldozer sent to his own property?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
"You know, it baffles me," Smith answered. "He's been clearing that piece of property off for several years, and his personal bulldozer had been tore up for a while."
Adding to the mystery is a claim by Monterey Mayor Jeff Hicks that it was his idea to ship the Army bulldozer to the chief's property in another county.
When we caught up with Hicks he said that he "won't interview with you for the simple fact of the way you done our police officer."
That was a reference to Officer Larry Bates, who seized the $22,000 from New Jersey man.
"So why would you approve government property being sent to private land?" we asked.
"I told you I'm not going to interview with you," Hicks answered.
But the mayor had told us by phone that he wanted the chief to use his own dozer to attach the blade to the new piece of equipment -- because the town just didn't have the equipment to lift it.
That was the same story that Chief Phillips later told in a brief conversation, where he refused to answer many of our questions.
Yet, from Sky5HD, we had spotted a second piece of town equipment -- an old Army boom truck -- that had also been taken out to the chief's property. It was actually being used hold the blade up.
The chief's bulldozer was nowhere to be seen.
"His dozer was in the shop getting repaired," the mayor quickly explained.
"So how was he supposed to work on this government dozer?" we wanted to know.
"It was on its way back," he claimed.
Still, after Sky5 left, locals say, the situation on the ground quickly changed.
"They scrambled to get it out of there," Richard Smith said. "They hired a company out of Cookeville and had to pay $350 of drug fund money to have the bulldozer moved back up here behind the city garage where it should have been to begin with."
"Anybody that looks at this picture and doesn't see anything wrong, you know, I wonder about them a little bit. To me, it's blatant misconduct."
While the mayor now says it was his idea to take the bulldozer to the chief's property, he was asked about the dozer at a city meeting a few days after it arrived. At that time, he insisted he didn't know where it was.
The mayor also now claims it was purchased to build a police gun range. But, at that same meeting, he told aldermen that the range was essentially done.
Our search for answers continues.