It would be naive to think Butch Jones was the only FBS head coach to receive “courtesy calls” from his local police department any time his players and the boys in blue crossed paths. However, so many Tennessee players have gotten in trouble lately that Jones’ courtesy call privilege came to light to the general public.
Knox County prosecutors have been against the move, for obvious reasons, and on Friday Knoxville police chief David Rausch revealed he has ended the practice.
“After reviewing our longstanding practice of courtesy notifications to the University of Tennessee administration of incidents involving UT students, it is clear that no investigations were compromised or improper information provided,” Rausch said in a statement. “But in the interest of transparency and to alleviate any appearance of conflict of interest, we have changed the previous practice, to ensure that investigators focus without hindrance on finding the facts and bringing justice to victims of crime.
“Going forward, in any incident involving a student at the university, (the Knoxville Police Department) will make formal notification only to UT law enforcement, as required by state law and as part of our ongoing interdepartmental cooperation.”
The practice came to light after the Knoxville News-Sentinel revealed four calls between Rausch and Jones on Nov. 16, 2014, the day Volunteers defenders A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams came under investigation for rape.
Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero and Rausch agreed to review the practice after the paper brought it to light. Rausch said the courtesy calls were simply professional courtesy and never interfered with ongoing investigations, but suspended the practice anyway. He also declined to answer questions about the practice.
“When we investigate an alleged crime involving an athlete at UT, as a professional courtesy, our longstanding practice has been that we alert the head coach and staff,” Rausch said. “At no time is any information shared with the university that would hinder or jeopardize any investigation. The purpose of the notification is due to the scrutiny these events bring to allow appropriate time to prepare responses to the various interests.”
Assistant District Attorney General Sean McDermott disagreed with Rausch’s assessment of harmless professional courtesy. “A pre-arrest disclosure of sensitive information that is not made for the purpose of advancing the criminal investigation potentially could violate state law regarding the misuse of official information,” he said earlier this month.
For what it’s worth, both the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the University of Tennessee Police Department declined to answer questions on courtesy calls to Volunteer coaches.
This could all become a moot point, after all, if Tennessee players simply cease getting arrested. We’ll see if that happens.