A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer apparently ran an unauthorized background check on a reporter who had written about ongoing agency woes, The (Nashville)Tennessean said.
Lt. Ronnie Shirley is accused of running illicit checks on more than 180 people, including longtime cops reporter Brad Schrade, The Tennessean said. Authorities are still trying to figure out why. But Tennessean editor Mark Silverman wasted no time in condemning the alleged snooping.
"For a state police agency or one of its agents to investigate a reporter who has produced legitimate and critically important coverage of the agency smacks of the intimidation and retribution you would expect to find in a totalitarian state," Silverman told the newspaper.
Shirley looked up Schrade’s driver’s license in January, days after the reporter wrote about four troopers accused of leaking sensitive information, The Tennessean said. Schrade’s name is one of the first to become public from the list of people Shirley is said to have looked into, which also includes a country music figure and another reporter, the newspaper said.
The state’s Department of Safety is seeking a legal opinion as to whether the full list ought to be be released, as the governor says it should.
In an article the newspaper ran on Saturday, Schrade wrote, "Get ready, Tennessee. A pair of armed Tennessee Highway Patrol detectives may be showing up at your house during dinner unannounced, on the weekend or at some other time in the coming days and weeks. That’s if you’re among up to 182 Tennesseans on whom THP Lt. Ronnie Shirley has done unauthorized criminal portal background checks."
Schrade reportedly got the call from the Highway Patrol himself that very morning.