After the University of Tennessee released football head coach Butch Jones' phone records in response to public records requests, a lot of attention was (rightfully) put on calls Jones had with former Volunteer Drae Bowles.
Bowles has said that he helped a distraught woman who accused two Tennessee football players of raping her. He's said Jones then telephoned to call him a traitor to the team. The released phone logs, which only show the length of a call and caller ID information, align with that general timeline.
There's another troubling portion.
That call at 8:20 a.m. is the first one Jones got on Nov. 16. That's the morning when the accuser went to the Knoxville Police Department to report she'd been raped by linebacker A.J. Johnson and cornerback Michael Williams. The caller is Sam Brown, a KPD Detective who serves as a liaison between the department and Tennessee football.
The call Jones got at 8:38 is from David Rausch, chief of the Knoxville Police. In between, Jones telephoned the accused Johnson twice, plus Brown and athletic department official Jon Gilbert.
One other important thing happened hours after these phone calls. The police searched Johnson's apartment that evening.
So why did two separate members of the Knoxville police call the coach to discuss a rape complaint before they'd even had the chance to execute a search warrant?
According to a statement from Rausch, with my emphasis:
When we investigate an alleged crime involving an athlete at UT, as a professional courtesy, our long standing practice has been that we alert the head Coach and staff. 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. Our paramount concern at KPD is to the victims and their families and to assure them that we will utilize every resource available to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation. That is our commitment to all citizens that we serve.
One of the best ways to hinder an investigation is to let the subject know he or she is under investigation before you want them to. There's a nine-hour gap between Jones calling Johnson and the cops searching Johnson's apartment. That isn't professional courtesy. It's, at best, a sloppy investigation.
If you're part of law enforcement at any level, you should hate sloppy investigations. They're how strong cases get punctured, and they're how meritless cases linger without resolutions. Sloppy investigations are bad for victims, who don't get justice, and they're bad for those who are falsely accused.
The argument's been floated that any college football coach would want to be informed if his players were accused of a crime. That's fine if we're talking about something like getting caught using a fake ID to buy beer. But for more serious allegations like this, what logical place does a coach have in the early stage of an investigation?
Even if you can justify giving Jones a heads up so he can have a response prepared for the media or other players, the responsible approach from an investigative standpoint would be to tell Jones not to talk to either of the accused players, the complainant, or any witnesses. (If they did, and Butch Jones disregarded that request, then he needs to be fired tomorrow.)
The reason's very simple: Jones isn't an investigator or an attorney. It isn't his job to determine whether his players committed a crime or to assert their civil rights.
There's nothing wrong with local police having good working relationships with college coaches, especially if those relationships help the police perform their duties more efficiently.
That's not what happened here. The Knoxville PD knows the beginning of an investigation is a critical opportunity to gather evidence; that's why it searched Johnson's apartment the same day as the complaint.
Making Jones a part of this case before any meaningful investigation had begun? That put that evidence in unnecessary jeopardy.
Does this too-cozy relationship between the police and football exist outside of Knoxville? Absolutely, and whenever it has a chance to compromise an investigation, it's a huge problem.