Johnson City top cop admits officers were aware of sexual assault claims against businessman

By: - October 19, 2022 2:00 am
(Photo: Johnson City Police Facebook)

(Photo: Johnson City Police Facebook)

Johnson City’s police chief is admitting in court records that his agency knew a downtown business owner was suspected of plying women with drugs and sexually assaulting them but never sought to question him about it — even after a distraught woman told officers she had just been raped by him.

Despite that admission, Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner is defending his agency’s handling of a string of sexual assault complaints levied against the man, whose identity is being shielded in court records, and the agency’s failure to arrest the man on an outstanding federal indictment.

“Each complaint of sexual assault or rape was properly investigated,” Turner insisted in a response to a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the chief and the city of Johnson City. “It is … admitted officers were attempting to spot (the man) out and about in the downtown area instead of staging an apprehension (on the federal indictment) … It is admitted that (the man) has fled and has not been apprehended.”

Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner. (Photo: Johnson City Police Department Facebook)
Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner. (Photo: Johnson City Police Department Facebook)

The agency’s handling of the investigation of the man — labeled with the pseudonym “Richard Voe” in ongoing litigation — came to public light in July when former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kateri Dahl took the extraordinary step of suing Turner and the city as an alleged whistleblower.

Dahl insists in the litigation, filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, that when she pushed the Johnson City Police Department to investigate Voe’s alleged sexual crimes, Turner retaliated by killing funding for her job.

In the wake of the Tennessee Lookout’s reporting, Johnson City Manager Cathy Ball announced the city would be hiring an independent law firm to investigate the Johnson City Police Department’s handling of sexual assault cases since Turner was tapped as chief in 2018.

Ball and Turner have also sent a letter to First Judicial District Attorney General Steve Finney, whose jurisdiction includes Johnson City, asking him to review the allegations in Dahl’s lawsuit to determine “whether there is evidence that would support opening an investigation into alleged corruption by certain Johnson City police officers,” according to court records.

But the pair insist in responses to Dahl’s litigation that the city ended its employment contract with her because of “performance issues,” not retaliation.

“The decision to not renew Dahl’s contract was not based on her failure to remain silent about illegal activities, much less the sole reason,” attorneys for the city and Turner wrote in a formal response.

Chief: Suspect never interviewed

Dahl was hired as a special prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Greeneville in 2019 pursuant to a memorandum of understanding in which Johnson City agreed to provide funding for the post. Dahl was tasked with helping the Johnson City Police Department build federal cases against drug traffickers and violent felons within the agency’s jurisdiction.

A year after Dahl was hired, she learned that a woman had fallen from the window of Voe’s fifth-floor condominium on 200 East Main Street in downtown Johnson City. In a media release issued immediately after the non-fatal fall, Turner ruled out any foul play and deemed the cause as “medical.”

As part of the agency’s investigation into the incident, Johnson City detectives searched Voe’s condominium and found ammunition inside a safe and a handwritten note on a nightstand in his bedroom “with the word ‘raped’ written atop a list of 23 women’s first names,” the lawsuit stated.

Voe, according to the litigation, is a convicted felon barred by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition, so the case came under Dahl’s jurisdiction as a special federal prosecutor.

Turner concedes in his response to the litigation that Johnson City Detective Toma Sparks told Dahl “there were rumors that Voe held parties in which the participants used cocaine and that there was additional speculation regarding whether Voe might be selling cocaine” and that at least two women told police Voe had sexually assaulted them.

But the agency did nothing to try to question Voe about the “raped” list or the two women’s complaints, court records show.

“Chief Turner did not believe that the list, by itself, established probable cause to arrest,” his response stated. “Chief Turner and (a subordinate) tried to explain to Dahl, who had no known experience investigating rape and sexual assault cases, that these cases are more difficult to prove if there is a basis for the criminal defendant to allege that the sex was consensual.”

Turner also admits in his response that his officers encountered a third potential victim outside Voe’s condominium but did not seek to interview Voe or search his condominium for evidence.

“It is admitted that Jane Doe 3 was in distress and recounted, at that time, that she had been raped … while upstairs in Voe’s condominium,” the response stated. “It is admitted that a statement from Voe was not sought by the responding officers.

“To the extent Dahl is implying that Voe should have been questioned, it is denied that Voe should have been questioned at the scene by responding officers where Voe was not present outside the building and the decision as to when to question a person accused of sexual assault (or) rape is best left to an investigator,” Turner’s response stated.

Turner says in his response a detective later interviewed the woman but “she did not wish to pursue criminal charges,” so the agency closed out the case without further investigation.

“(The detective) would not question a suspect after taking a statement from the alleged victim and ensuring that the victim wished to pursue charges, which did not occur in this case,” he stated in the response.

Dahl contends in her lawsuit that at least 10 women have told her that they were sexually assaulted by Voe in his condominium after he provided them cocaine. Although Turner says he doesn’t know how many women have spoken to Dahl, he doesn’t deny that he and his officers knew Voe was suspected to be a sexual predator.

“The described modus operandi of Voe is generally considered correct and admitted based on the available Jane Doe victim reports,” his response states.

johnson city response to special prosecutor suit

‘Vacate the building’

Sexual assaults and rapes are state crimes, not federal offenses. Dahl, as a special federal prosecutor, did not have the legal authority to pursue a rape investigation against Voe. On that, both sides agree.

Dahl contends in her lawsuit that she spent months trying to convince Johnson City police to launch a sexual crimes investigation against Voe. She says police supervisors and Turner seemed unconcerned, downplaying the allegations and mocking the complaining women.

Turner, on the other hand, blames Dahl in his response for the lack of investigation. According to Turner, he and his subordinates pushed Dahl to seek a federal indictment against Voe for being a felon in possession of those bullets found in his safe, a move that would put him behind bars temporarily and allow the agency time to follow up on the sexual assault complaints.

“It is further admitted that Chief Turner and (subordinates) considered a prompt indictment of Voe on the (federal ammunition charge) to be the most feasible option to facilitate further investigation of potential charges for cocaine trafficking, gun possession or sexual assault,” Turner’s response stated.

But Turner admits that when Dahl secured that federal indictment in April 2021, his officers did not arrest him on it — even though Dahl repeatedly asked them to do so.

According to Turner’s response, officers went to Voe’s condominium three weeks after the federal indictment was issued but were ordered by a supervisor to “vacate the building” without attempting to arrest Voe.

“The responding officers on the scene had conflicting information as to whether Voe was the person communicating with them (from inside the condominium),” Turner’s response stated. “The senior officer contacted his supervisor who advised to vacate the building because they could not verify that Voe was the person in the condo.”

Voe has been a fugitive ever since.

Dahl says she tried to get the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Turner and his agency. She claims in the lawsuit a woman she interviewed as part of her probe of Voe raised concerns Voe was bribing Johnson City officers to stay out of trouble.

While Turner counters in his response that there is no evidence that Johnson City police officers were on the take in the Voe case, the chief says he has notified prosecutor Finney of those claims.

“Johnson City and Chief Turner will request that Dahl and (the woman) be interviewed in order for a determination to be made whether there is evidence that would support opening an investigation into alleged corruption by certain Johnson City police officers,” the chief’s response states.

A trial date in the litigation has not yet been set.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.