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'We're looking to buy about 20 of them.' Email raises new questions about listening devices in DA office

Posted: 9:29 PM, Feb 20, 2023
Updated: 2023-02-20 23:16:01-05
Nashville District Attorney General Office.jpeg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — How many listening devices were placed in and around Nashville DA Glenn Funk's office?

New emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates are raising that question — even as Tennessee's attorney general opens a criminal investigation into Funk's office.

Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti's office recently informed Glenn Funk in this letter that the DA's office is now under criminal investigation.

Related: Tennessee AG opens criminal investigation of Nashville DA Funk's office

The AG is "investigating whether any official in your office has violated any state criminal law, including the Tennessee wiretapping statute," Skrmetti's office wrote to Funk.

That letter was sent the day after a NewsChannel 5 investigation raised questions about listening devices in and around the DA's office.

A security contractor confirmed cameras wired with microphones planted around elevators outside the DA's office — and possibly inside the lobby area.

But the newly obtained emails raise the possibility that the eavesdropping could have been even more pervasive.

In January 2022, a vendor emailed David Lewis, the assistant director of information technology for Funk's office.

"Are you still looking for a 5MP camera with internal microphone?" the vendor asked.

Lewis responded, "We're looking to buy about 20 of them."

Those would appear to be on top of microphone-equipped cameras purchased from another vendor.

It is not known how many of those 20 additional cameras with microphones were actually installed — or where.

Funk responded to the AG's letter, with his own letter insisting that he was doing what was necessary to protect his staff from acts of violence.

"We have never conducted any unauthorized audio or video recording of any area where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy," Funk wrote. "We know what the law allows and what the law prohibits."

The past president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers voiced concerns that defense lawyers could be secretly recorded when they come to the DA's office for meetings with co-counsel or even defendants.

Former federal prosecutor Gary Blackburn has noted that both federal and state wiretapping laws make it a crime if a person "intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept ... any ... oral ... communication."

"A person who tries to record something privately, no matter what the motivation is, is violating the law," Blackburn told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Blackburn, who has litigated cases involving the wiretapping laws, said even public places can be covered if individuals are alone and do not have any reason to suspect that they are being monitored.

"What we're trying to protect with federal and state wiretap laws is the ability to have a private conversation and where you are is less important than the sense of privacy," the veteran lawyer said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates followed up, "So if you have a reasonable belief that this conversation is private, then it cannot be recorded."

"That's correct."

The AG's letter directs Funk to preserve all potential evidence, including documents relating to the purchase, installation, maintenance and operation of those listening devices.

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