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Rep. Jones presses 'rogue agency' THP over dossier of Tennessee activists

Posted at 9:19 PM, Feb 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-14 05:19:01-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In his first meeting with Tennessee Highway Patrol since becoming a lawmaker, activist-turned-Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, pressed officials about a dossier he called a violation of constitutional rights.

Jones led a spirited discussion during the House Government Operations Committee meeting, where Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long answered some of his questions.

Long began the discussion of HB0209, which would renew the budget between his department and the state for the next four years. Long first joined the department in 2019.

When asked if there were any questions, Jones presented a copy of a NewsChannel5 Investigates report on a dossier of 50+ activists from protests across the state capitol in 2020.

The confidential dossier was obtained through a public records request and listed names, arrest records, addresses, and personal information of people of interest for law enforcement.

Jones was listed in the same dossier as a person of interest, but on Monday found himself in the rare position to ask officials why the dossier was necessary.

“How often do you violate the citizen’s constitutional rights by this type of surveillance,” asked Jones.

Committee chair Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, interrupted Long before he could answer and warned Jones to stay on topic with the bill. He then told Jones he only had so many questions left, before the committee would move forward with a vote.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, stepped in to say he understood the need for decorum, but that he doesn’t remember a limit on questions.

“I understand that we don’t need to make accusations, but we can certainly ask questions about the way they conduct business,” Clemmons said.

Jones asked Long more questions about the dossier, after learning that THP also had troopers monitoring protests in Memphis after the death of Tyre Nichols.

“How often do you create dossier files for people exercising their first amendment activity and what are the parameters of these dossier files? Do you keep them on white nationalist groups? Did you keep them on the Tennesseans who participated in the insurrection on Jan. 6th? How do you determine the groups you keep a dossier file on,” asked Jones.

“I’m not aware that we keep dossier files on anyone. According to the legal definition that I’m aware of about dossiers, we don’t have dossiers,” Long said.

Jones once again shared a copy of the dossier and asked Long to clarify that they do not keep files and arrest information on activists, including information on those who weren’t arrested.

Long responded and said they do keep arrest records. If others were identified from the protests, they may also be in the document, but Long did not say he’s seen the document for himself.

Jones also asked about a NewsChannel5 report where we learned THP spent close to $1 million in one month to cover overtime costs of placing troopers at the Capitol.

The committee requested Jones present his questions to Long’s officer, but Jones said he did have a meeting with Long that was canceled and never rescheduled.

Long said he would provide Jones with whatever records he needs if they’re accessible.

“We don’t have anything that we’re trying to hide or anything else. I welcome a meeting with you. I want to be a partner working with you and with the other members of this committee and the legislature. We’ll do whatever to accommodate you,” Long said.

Ultimately, the committee voted to move forward with the bill to renew the department’s agreement with the state.

The bill will go before the House floor for a vote to which Jones said he will urge his colleagues to vote against the bill and demand more oversight of what he called a "rogue agency" with a history of "violating Tennessean's constitutional rights."

“We need to look at the militarization of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. We need to look at the assaults on citizens’ first amendment rights. I’m going to urge my colleagues to vote against this bill until we get answers from the Department of Safety,” Jones said before his microphone was turned off.