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Nashville DA Glenn Funk rejects $354,000 in state money for DUI prosecutions, refuses to say why

Former DUI prosecutor: 'We have not been able to reduce recidivism or fatalities in this jurisdiction, and in fact they have never been higher.'
Posted: 4:06 PM, Nov 21, 2022
Updated: 2022-11-21 19:53:55-05
Metro Nashville Police DUI Patrol.JPG

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's a Friday night, and Metro Police Sgt. Paul Stein is on DUI patrol.

"I have a passion for DUIs, getting impaired drivers off the road, making sure they don't hurt themselves or someone else," Stein says.

The shift he's working is paid for under a state grant to put extra officers on the streets, looking for impaired drivers. For years, the state has also provided millions of dollars in separate grants to prosecute the DUI cases that police make.

Related: Auditors launch investigation of Nashville DA's office

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Stein, "When you're out here, do you have a sense that you're saving lives?"

"Absolutely," he answered. "I feel that every DUI arrest I make I save at least one person's life, whether it be that DUI driver or whether it's a citizen on the roadways."

We were with Stein as he responded to a driver who had crashed her car into several vehicles in downtown Nashville.

"She was really messed up. She wasn't really speaking anything that we could understand," said one woman whose car was hit.

As Stein interviewed the driver responsible for all the destruction, she seemed to have no idea where she was.

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Phil Williams interviews Metro police Sgt. Paul Stein
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Downtown auto accident

"She just seems real lethargic. She stated something about asking me if I saw an invisible carriage," the police sergeant later recounted.

We asked, "Invisible carriage?"

"Invisible carriage," he acknowledged. "So she is, it's going to be drug related. I don't smell any alcohol."

Soon, she's taken to the hospital to be checked out.

Before the night is up, she'll be charged with driving under the influence.

But while police are redoubling their efforts to arrest and charge impaired drivers, Nashville DA Glenn Funk appears to be taking a different approach.

While the state hands out millions of dollars every year to help prosecute drunk and impaired drivers, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered, Funk has told state officials he doesn't want their money, refusing to sign a contract that would have provided his office $354,000 to pay for DUI prosecutions in the next year.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Highway Safety Office tells NewsChannel 5 that Funk is the only DA in the state to turn down the DUI prosecution money.

The grant was scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

But on Sept. 21, Laney Heard, the outgoing head of Funk's DUI prosecution team, notified the state, "General Funk wishes to withdraw our application for Fiscal Year 2023."

The Safety Office spokesperson tells NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Funk's office gave no reason for giving up the free money for DUI prosecutions, and the DA's Office did not respond to NewsChannel 5's questions.

It follows a campaign for re-election in which Funk boasted about having helped to keep the city safe.

"It's absolutely mind-boggling," said Fraternal Order of Police president James Smallwood.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Smallwood, "Have you ever seen a DA turn down money for prosecutors?"

"I've never seen an elected official turn down money for anything, much less what's at their core mission, and that's holding people accountable for the crimes that they commit," Smallwood answered.

It was an opinion shared by the legislative liaison for Tennessee's Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Norris Skelley's brother-in-law was killed by a drunk driver.

"It's very disappointing," Skelley said.

We asked, "Can you imagine any legitimate reason for turning down DUI prosecution money?"

"I cannot," Skelley said. "In fact, I know some counties are hoping to raise theirs because, as I said, this is a problem not only in Davidson County, but is a problem all across the country of people choosing to drive impaired. It's a choice."

It comes at a time when deadly crashes involving alcohol in Davidson County are up 82% in the last five years, and drug-related crashes are up 45%.

In 2021, there were 123 fatal crashes, resulting in 132 deaths, according to Metro police. More than half of those crashes involved impaired drivers.

"In an environment where we are seeing year after year after year of fatal crashes increasing, why anybody would think it's reasonable to remove resources is beyond me," Smallwood said. "It's absolutely insane to think that's OK."

In fact, the Nashville DA's office has used those state grants for years to fund three assistant DAs to concentrate full-time on bringing DUI offenders to justice.

But, in a report just submitted to the state — a requirement for the last grant the office received — team leader Laney Heard made it clear that all is not well inside the DA's Office.

Her final report reveals, "We have not been able to reduce recidivism or fatalities in this jurisdiction, and in fact, they have never been higher. We have broken all records for fatal crashes, and the numbers are increasing."

Despite that, Heard wrote, "We lost a grant prosecutor in May 2021 and General Funk chose not to fill that position." Then, Funk decided to "terminate the grant so we were forced to continue handling cases with less people."

NewsChannel 5 reached out to Heard, who declined to comment for this story.

Norris Skelley's reaction: "It's disheartening to see that such a public safety issue is really being ignored."

Ironically, General Funk sent a letter to Nashville's Criminal Court judges last year, expressing concern about "a backlog for DUI jury trials" and promising to "attach 3 assistant DAs to the current 3 person DUI team" — the team funded by the state grant.

Sources inside the office say that never happened.

"A lot of police officers have asked the question: is he the defense attorney or is he the prosecutor? We can't tell the difference," Smallwood said.

Out on the streets, NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Sgt. Paul Stein, "Are there ever times that you make what you think is a really good impaired-driving stop, but then you are disappointed with how it turns out when it gets to court?"

"Yes, it gets very frustrating," Stein acknowledged.

So how does he deal with that?

Stein's answer: "Just knowing that I took that individual off the road that night so they couldn't hurt anybody. But it does get frustrating."

Police say they'll still be out there looking for impaired drivers.

As for Funk's decision to give up resources to prosecute the cases they make, that — they say — is out of their control.

NewsChannel 5 asked the FOP president, "Do you believe that this DA cares about prosecuting DUIs?"

Smallwood responded, "It's evident that he doesn't."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates reached out to Funk's office more than once seeking his response, but we never heard back.

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