JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A local attorney’s whistleblower complaints about the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have gained additional merit as many more people have provided evidence to a non-profit helping that attorney, the group’s founder told News Channel 11.
John Tye, an attorney and prominent former whistleblower, said much additional evidence has come to the non-profit Whistleblower Aid since he first spoke to News Channel 11 on July 1. He asked the community for information during that interview, and Whistleblower Aid also used targeted social media ads designed to gain more accounts related to JCPD’s alleged failure to fully investigate rape and other allegations against a downtown Johnson City business owner.
“The new inquiries we’ve had over the last couple weeks have solidified a lot of things, have opened up new prospects that we weren’t aware of a couple weeks ago and have really validated a lot of the facts in the complaint,” Tye said.
Whistleblower Aid, a 5-year-old organization that’s already represented Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as well as other prominent government and corporate cases, is representing Kateri “Kat” Dahl, a former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney who worked at JCPD from 2019-2021 through an agreement with the region’s federal attorney’s office.
“Our mission is to help whistleblowers, witnesses, report what they know lawfully, safely and securely,” Tye said.
“We help people like Kat and others who have seen something wrong to find a safe way to come forward and report that, and that’s what we’re seeing in Johnson City.”
Dahl claims in a federal lawsuit that her agreement wasn’t renewed in July 2021 in retaliation to pressure she put on JCPD to more thoroughly investigate rape and drug dealing allegations against the business owner the suit refers to as “Robert Voe.”
Tye’s group is representing her in two official complaints to the DOJ that are separate from the lawsuit but still revolve around the JCPD’s alleged conduct. One is with the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
“We took it to OIG because we think OIG should investigate to see whether Department of Justice funds were misspent, policies were violated in the handling of her employment and this matter more generally,” Tye said.
The other complaint was lodged with the Public Integrity Section, which investigates state and local governments that may have broken the law. The group is also in touch with the Civil Rights Division, Tye said, because it’s charged with investigating sex trafficking and other federal sex crimes. At the heart of Dahl’s lawsuit is a claim that she discovered evidence “Voe” was a serial rapist who drugged and assaulted his victims and that the JCPD refused to adequately investigate those allegations, including firsthand accounts by more than a half-dozen women.
‘Not a single allegation has been called into question’
Tye said Whistleblower Aid carefully scrutinizes initial requests from whistleblowers before deciding whether to pour the non-profit’s limited resources into a case. He said the team reviews documentary evidence ranging from emails to video, audio and more to determine the likely credibility of both the allegations and the witness.
“We obviously investigate these things before we commit, and with Kat, what she was alleging was shocking, but the more we looked into it, it was a strong case,” Tye said. “And I will say, since the reporting on this and we’ve had all these inquiries come in, not a single allegation has been called into question.
“Just the opposite. We’ve had all kinds of people and new evidence come in confirming everything and in fact providing a lot more details and context to the overall narrative.”
The lawsuit, which Tye said he would “let speak for itself,” references an apparent widespread knowledge in the downtown nightlife scene about “Voe’s” alleged behaviors. It also makes strong allegations about the police discrediting and dismissing potential rape victims as part of a culture that Dahl alleges was either incompetent, corrupt or both when it came to investigations of “Voe.”
That’s one reason Whistleblower Aid cast a net for additional accounts about the “Voe” case and any other potentially questionable conduct by JCPD surrounding sexual assault cases. It received plenty, Tye said, and the secure, encrypted channel for people to submit information remains open.
“I can’t say I’m happy about that, because obviously the facts we’re talking about are so terrible here, but we now have a lot of independent data points,” he said. “People who didn’t even know each other’s names, people who didn’t know that there were other things going on, all coming with very similar stories.”
Asked if the information received and conversations Whistleblower Aid has had with some of those reporting might point to a culture at JCPD, Tye again said the lawsuit’s allegations could speak for themselves, but added: “the allegations have been reinforced that these trends are real.”
On the DOJ front, Tye said he believes the evidence Whistleblower Aid has gathered provides “sufficient facts and evidence to bring prosecution” and that the group is “certainly calling on the Department of Justice to investigate.”
While any investigation, potential indictments and prosecutions could take years to play out, Tye said the DOJ “can move quickly if it needs to.” He said the lawsuit makes it pretty clear “who might be liable depending on where the evidence leads.”
Tye also said he’s followed the public outcry that has surrounded the case, including a protest outside City Hall, calls for JCPD Chief Karl Turner’s suspension pending an investigation, and additional demands for a police accountability board. The City of Johnson City has said it’s ordering an independent review of the JCPD to learn whether “any actions taken by (JCPD) were inconsistent with acceptable practice in law enforcement.”
Tye said he’s “a fan of citizens getting to know what their government is doing.
“I think it’s interesting and telling that the local reaction wasn’t ‘oh, this is impossible, this couldn’t be happening.’ There’s been a lot of support emerging … and I think that goes to the seriousness and the credibility of the allegations here.”
The Dahl case is Whistleblower Aid’s first direct involvement with a local law enforcement whistleblower situation, Tye said, though some of their other cases have touched on it.
He said his work on the case has brought two things squarely front and center. One is what he called a continued extensive reporting on misconduct by local law enforcement.
“Sometimes that’s been racialized, sometimes it’s related to other types of corruption or problems or just incompetence,” Tye said. “But there’s clearly a need for this country to reckon with holding our local law enforcement accountable on all kinds of fronts and this case is one example of that broader trend.”
The other thread the Dahl case involves is the treatment of women in American society. Whistleblower Aid has been involved in cases involving both Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, who were accused of various serial sex offenses.
“Whistleblower Aid going back to 2017 or 2018 has represented women either reporting harassment, misconduct, other kinds of workplace issues in U.S. federal agencies, in municipal agencies,” he said.
He called it “an issue that cuts across partisan lines … that we’ve seen consistently in federal government, local government, all over the places and we consider this squarely within our mission at Whistleblower Aid, to help victims and witnesses to come forward and tell their stories.”
Tye acknowledged the stories surrounding Dahl’s case have been difficult to hear on a personal level.
“To hear some of these stories, it affects me and I know it affects others on my team. Trying to strike a balance where we’re helping this person protect their legal rights while also really listening not just to their words but to their feelings and what they’ve experienced in their lives — it’s a difficult task, it’s an important task, and so I hope we’re up to it.”