JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — City leaders had no comment Thursday evening regarding a lawsuit filed against the city and police department by a former federal investigator.
People gathered inside and outside city hall calling for the suspension of Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner amid allegations of inconsistent handling of sexual assault cases by the department.
Those allegations were brought to light in a lawsuit filed on June 23 by a former special assistant U.S. attorney, Kat Dahl, hired by JCPD.
In the lawsuit, Dahl alleged she was fired after pushing Turner and the department to investigate a series of alleged serial rapes and sexual assaults tied to a single suspect only identified by the alias “Robert Voe.”
City commissioners met to discuss the lawsuit in a closed-door meeting prior to Thursday night’s regular commission meeting. On Wednesday, City Manager Cathy Ball said the city will request a third-party review of the police department’s actions surrounding the lawsuit.
When asked if any decision was made during Thursday’s meeting, Ball told News Channel 11 that she could not comment on pending litigation.
Vice-Mayor Todd Fowler said the meeting was purely informational and no action was taken.
“It was just an informational meeting for us to know what’s going in the lawsuit,” Fowler said after the meeting.
Several protesters gathered at City Hall to call for a full investigation into allegations the police department mishandled rape cases. They also called for Turner to be suspended.
Victoria Hewlett was among those protesting outside. She called on city leaders to host a town hall to hear community concerns about the content of the lawsuit.
“They should give us a seat at the table and give us a chance to speak because a lot of us knew about this guy [Voe],” Hewlett said.
During the regular commission meeting, the lawsuit did not come up until a citizen named Jeff Clark spoke up during public comment regarding the Ashe Street courthouse. He was interrupted and told that the discussion was limited to the agenda item at hand.
“Our police department with our chief who is-,” Clark said before Fowler stopped his comment.
“Mr. Clark, not that’s not on our agenda, so. We’re only talking about the Ashe Street courthouse and that’s all,” Fowler said.
Clark replied, “I’m talking about the fact that no one’s going to feel safe with a chief who denies rape.”
Ball told Clark and the audience the city was instructed by their attorney to not speak on the pending litigation.
Citizens can sign up to speak during commission meetings, but only on things that are on the agenda.
Notices were posted on City Hall doors about policies on disrupting public meetings.
In response, several inside the commission chambers wore tape across their mouths, some inscribed with the word “RESIGN” in reference to Turner.
Katelyn Yarbrough, one of the protest’s organizers, said the city’s message was clear.
“They want us to be silent. They don’t want us to be here. It’s a culture of sweeping things under the rug,” Yarbrough said.
Before the meeting was adjourned, two commissioners told the audience anyone with questions could contact them via email or cell phone, both available on the city’s website.
Ben Putnam, another protest organizer, said that hasn’t been the case before leaving the meeting.
“My calls and emails weren’t returned. Don’t listen to them. They’re lying to you. We’ll be outside waiting to talk to you,” Putnam said.
No city leaders came out to talk with protesters after the meeting. However, protesters said Thursday night’s meeting was only the beginning of their push against the city and JCPD.