Commentary: Co-opting: the secret keepers

Metro Police at a recent protest. (Photo: Alex Kent)
Metro Police at a recent protest. (Photo: Alex Kent)

It is no secret that during the reign of Adolph Hitler, there were Jews who enabled and fully cooperated with the Nazis to exterminate fellow Jews, just like there were Black Africans who helped capture Black Africans during the horrors of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. 

It has always been the way that those who abuse and oppress others find individuals or organizations to co-op those willing to betray their own. It’s ingenious and effective because deflecting attention provides distraction and cover while those co-opted feel aligned with power.  

Mistakenly, we often overlook women as co-conspirators when it comes to abuse but as we’ve learned recently, Ghislaine Maxwell not only kept Jeffrey Epstein stocked with victims to feed his perverted appetite for young girls, but she is alleged to have participated in the abuse. While successfully deflecting attention away from Epstein, the duo built a sex trade empire over a period of two decades without scrutiny. And unfortunately, part of the reason they succeeded so long is that she is a woman. And because we expect women to protect one another, we are horrified. 

Nashville isn’t a lot worse than other cities regarding police misconduct or corruption, but do we really want to live down to the lowest common denominator?

Take Kathy Morante for example, Director of The Office of Professional Accountability in the Metro Nashville Police Department, which is now fielding 33 allegations of sexual misconduct ranging from verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation and assault. While these claims have only recently become public, interviews show the alleged ‘boys club’ has prevailed for over a decade under the leadership of Chief Steve Anderson and with the knowledge of Morante.  

Those brave enough to come forward report being belittled, harassed and in some cases, threatened.  

How does this happen in an organization charged with serving and protecting our community? Can those who are unprotected within the MNPD effectively protect us? Why do the same names appear over and over again in these reports? And most importantly, who is colluding with whom?

Thanks to Steven Hale of Nashville Scene and Samantha Max of NPR, and the public outcry, several allegations are finally under investigation although many citizens are calling for truly ‘independent’ investigations’ —outside law enforcement. Clearly, the fox investigating the henhouse rarely turns up any feathers. 

And while there is a chorus repeating the same names over and over in the allegations, like Cpt. Jason Reinbold, Deputy Chief Mike Hagar and others, it seems someone is looking the other way.

Metro Nashville Police Deputy Chief Mike Hagar (Photo: Metro Nashville Government)
Metro Nashville Police Deputy Chief Mike Hagar (Photo: Metro Nashville Government)

National and International organizations state that false accusations of sexual assault are quite low–approximately 2-10% of claims. According to the FBI, approximately 8% of sexual assault claims turn out to be unfounded. 

When reviewing the 33 allegations of sexual misconduct within MNPD, we’ll assume for the sake of argument the FBI’s 8% assumption of false claims. That means 31.5 claims by Metro Nashville police women and men are telling the truth about harassment, intimidation, sexual and verbal abuse within MNPD.  

After spending 14 years as Assistant District Attorney, Kathy Morante became Director of MNPD’s Office of Professional Accountability in 2013. In spite of being reprimanded for failing to provide evidence in a 2010 murder case, she was hired by MNPD. Her failure in 2010 compelled a judge to vacate the conviction of Black teenager Terry L. Reed, Jr. and his 19-year prison term.  As determined by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, Morante ‘inexplicably’ did not give the teen’s defense lawyer a police report showing a key witness for the state was arrested with the murder weapon. Although the 19 year conviction was vacated, the teenager was still sentenced to four and a half  years in prison. 

Of course, Morante is human and humans make mistakes.  The question we must ask is, was this an anomaly or was this an indication of a pattern of behavior in which Morante’s ‘forgetfulness’ to provide crucial evidence was because she did not place value on a young African American man’s life?  

Certainly, in the case of retired Officer Monica Blake, this question is valid. Officer Blake, a Black officer who served the Nashville community for over 14 years, was raped by fellow MNPD Officer Julian Pirtle. Even though Morante was aware that Officer Blake was the victim, she was caught sharing confidential case information regarding an open investigation with Pirtle’s defense attorney. When this violation was reported, the complainant was “investigated” by Deputy Chief Hagar.  Hagar simply deemed Morante’s corrupt behavior as a “policy flaw.” Deputy Chief Hagar never sanctioned Morante for her actions. 

According to Blake, Morante and the OPA continued a pattern of relentless harassment against her until Officer Blake was forced to file a federal lawsuit. Metro Government had to settle the lawsuit, out of court, for retaliating against her. The settlement is a matter of public record.

Former Metro Nashville Police Officer Monica Blake (Photo: Monica Blake)
Former Metro Nashville Police Officer Monica Blake (Photo: Monica Blake)

As our city faces this moral crossroad, we must ask: What are the desired qualities and characteristics for a Director of Office of Professional Accountability who will keep employees safe? And is the interim chief who has worked within this environment for over two decades committed and even capable of cleaning up an environment as toxic as the MNPD appears to be? 

National police reform experts insist it is impossible to address corruption from the inside—especially with a longstanding pattern of cooperation amongst those wielding power over others. 

Sadly, Nashville isn’t a lot worse than other cities regarding police misconduct or corruption, but do we really want to live down to the lowest common denominator? Or do we strive to become a city that transforms its law enforcement agency into one that respects and protects its own as well as the larger community? 

Cleaning house isn’t women’s work. It’s all of our responsibility.  And we all owe a debt of gratitude to the original 19 women and now, the 33 men and women who are making us look unflinchingly in the mirror.  

If we are to trust law enforcement again, Nashville has some deep truth and reconciliation work ahead of us. And lots of healing work to do. Together.