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Report: Video refutes trooper who denied unmasking protester

By JONATHAN MATTISE
Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) — A former Tennessee state trooper’s insistence that he never yanked the mask off a protester near the state Capitol has been refuted by surveillance footage and an eyewitness account from a fellow law enforcement officer, state records show.
A public records request by The Associated Press also revealed a lengthy disciplinary record and an initial recommendation that Trooper Harvey Briggs be fired nearly two decades ago. After Briggs’ encounter with the protester, he was fired and charged with assault.
The notice of Briggs’ termination this summer says a security camera at the Tennessee State Library & Archives provided a different view from the protester’s own video. Andrew Golden’s widely shared recording showed Golden’s mask on the ground but didn’t capture Briggs removing it, and the trooper denied doing so on camera.
Briggs also violated state law by not wearing a mask himself, despite the coronavirus pandemic, the notice said.
“Trooper Briggs, you are a State Trooper whose conduct should inspire confidence and trust, especially in this time of civil protest by citizens of Tennessee,” his termination notice states. “Because of your conduct, you can no longer be trusted with the responsibilities of a State Trooper.”
The encounter between the two men happened the day lawmakers reconvened inside the Capitol for a session in which they passed legislation threatening felony charges for protesters who camp out on state property amid the sustained outcry for racial justice nationwide.
Over a 22-year career with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Briggs had been suspended for 17 days without pay for several infractions before the mask incident, the documents show.
And in 2001, a Tennessee Highway Patrol captain initially recommended Briggs be fired after a heated exchange with an assistant district attorney who told him he couldn’t bring a gun into court while not on duty, according to his disciplinary file.
Briggs denied removing Golden’s mask during two interviews with the Office of Professional Accountability, claiming Golden took it off himself, the termination notice said.
But one of Briggs’ coworkers left no doubt as to what he saw. Trooper Brian Carmouche, who was providing assistance on a traffic stop, said he was “110%” sure he saw Briggs reach up, grab the face covering and throw it on the ground, the documents show.
Golden was recording the traffic stop when Briggs, who was nearby but not involved, scolded Golden for cursing and told him not to “impede” the scene.
The video shows Briggs, unmasked, getting up close to Golden’s face. Golden then says on camera that Briggs ripped off his mask, and shows the mask on the ground nearby. “I did not,” Briggs responds. “I’m tired of you people making stuff up.”
Briggs offered a similar generalization to the Office of Professional Accountability. When asked if he believed Golden posed a threat, Briggs said he feels like “all those people do. I don’t trust any of them.”
Briggs had been promoted to Capitol protection duty last year and got a raise. Before that, he spent time at truck weigh stations, where a 2001 incident landed him his longest suspension, documents show.
In April 2001, while a fellow officer was inspecting a truck in Coffee County, Briggs approached two drivers walking across the parking lot, got into a crouched stance, unstrapped the retaining strap on his holster and asked, as he pointed his finger at the two, “All right, which one of you am I going to shoot first?” He later repeated the statement and gesture to them inside an office.
Briggs insisted he was joking. But the disciplinary report determined the drivers felt threatened and his actions were serious enough to draw a 12-day suspension without pay.
A few months earlier, records show, a local police lieutenant saw Briggs on an off-road vehicle on a public highway in Columbia at 4:30 a.m., wearing his department-issued coat and carrying his service weapon in the waistband of his pants. The lieutenant said Briggs was “lounged back as if he was on a hammock” and “wasn’t acting normal.”
“I told him it just wasn’t normal for him or anyone to be riding a four-wheeler at 4:30 a.m. in the morning and passing a car at Shoney’s intersection,” the officer wrote.
Briggs ultimately received a three-day suspension without pay for that incident.
That November, Briggs appeared in court under subpoena, in uniform and wearing his gun, on behalf of a friend charged with speeding. When an assistant district attorney told him that bringing the weapon into court while off duty was a felony, Briggs argued with her, records show.
A captain initially called for Briggs, who had changed his name from Ibbotson, to be fired, writing that he had no sense of “duty or loyalty to his profession or this department.”
“I find Officer Ibbotson’s behavior in the Bedford County Court to be gross misconduct,” wrote Capt. Shelton Hunt. “Not only did he offend an Assistant District Attorney, he embarrassed the Department by his actions. Officer Ibbotson insulted the Bedford County Court and his fellow officers with his behavior. I have lost all personal and professional respect for Officer Ibbotson.”
Briggs also failed to attend the last two monthly counseling sessions required after his 12-day suspension, the captain wrote, but the courtroom incident ultimately ended with just a written warning at the same captain’s recommendation a few months later.
His final suspension, two days without pay, was imposed after he said he lost a work-issued gun in 2017.
Even when a supervisor cleared Briggs of a complaint in 2009, he still voiced concerns.
“Trp. Briggs has a ‘unique’ personality,” Lt. Wayne Sellers wrote, “and I agree with Mr. Putnam in saying that he often lacks good interpersonal skills.”