JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City’s police department is collaborating with the local district attorney as it makes changes amid a review of how it handles sexual assault cases, including working more closely with the Family Justice Center.
Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) Interim Chief Billy Church told News Channel 11 Wednesday that while he couldn’t directly comment on a pending suit filed by former prosecutor Kat Dahl, its allegations helped prompt the department to an internal review. So did citizen concerns that were voiced about JCPD’s handling of sexual assault cases.
The city has also solicited an outside law firm to review its practices and suggest potential ways to improve. That report has not been completed yet.
Dahl worked with the JCPD through a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) from September 2019 through July 2021 as part of a federal program designed to help local agencies pursue federal charges in certain drug, weapons and trafficking cases.
Dahl’s lawsuit claims JCPD leaders were dismissive of evidence that a downtown business owner with the pseudonym “Robert Voe” should be investigated for multiple alleged sexual assaults and that her MOU wasn’t renewed in retaliation because she pushed them to build a broader case against Voe.
“Other things from the complaint that was made we…just said, ‘hey, let’s look at the way we do certain things, the way we handle certain cases to include the sexual assaults,'” Church said.
“We’ve been working with (First Judicial District Attorney) Steve Finney’s office carefully, and he has come up with some great protocol that he’s given us to standardize certain ways we do things. So we’re using that to make it better. We’re looking at the Family Justice Center, we’re looking at putting showers down there and some more amenities just to make it better for sexual assault victims.”
Church said the department has also requested additional funding for sexual assault training.
Depositions in the case are set for later this month. Karl Turner, who retired as chief at the end of February, is named individually in the lawsuit. It is scheduled for a jury trial in Knoxville federal court in May 2024.