A federal utility that specializes in burning coal for electricity is lighting a hot one under the seats of travelers and motorists who are being pulled over in traffic stops in Chattanooga and in many other cities.
A woman with a small child in the back seat is arrested Saturday at 7:30 p.m. near Chickamauga Dam as they head into Hixson. The arresting officer injects a little grace into his work. He either lets her go with a warning or makes her sign a citation for a court appearance. Assuming he had probable cause, he could have seized her, driven off with her and taken her before a magistrate for booking and jailing.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM
TVA law enforcement officer Scott E. Stone wears a semiautomatic pistol, bears the word “police” on his back and refuses to say why he has stopped the people in the car or what crime or tort he alleges they have committed. Mr. Stone refuses to speak about the arrest.
Next to the woman behind the steering wheel sits a man in a ball cap and a green shirt. Behind her in the left rear seat sits restrained a small child in a red baby seat.
Mr. Stone drives in white four-door SUV disguised as a private car — no rack of lights on his roof — with the license plate TV48507. Unlike cars sold to the public, this motor vehicle carries no manufacturer logo or insignia except, on the rear door, the words “police interceptor.”
To warn oncoming traffic of his policing activity, he flashes blue lights in the rear window of the car. His forward-facing blue lights also are flashing
“Yeah, it was a traffic stop,” says Scott Fiedler, a TVA spokesman in a phone call 10 minutes later. “[Officers] see something suspicious — I mean, it could be a variety of things.”
DAVID TULIS “Someone’s driving too fast — past the speed limit?”
SCOTT FIEDLER “I — I — it was a traffic stop.”
“So the car was pulled over — was that under Title 55 of the Tennessee code? Under what authority? Transportation stop? Commercial stop?”
FIEDLER “I have no idea. It was a traffic stop.”
“Was the person cited to court?”
FIELDER “I just know it was a traffic stop.”
“Does that person go into a federal court for this? Tell me — generally speaking. Speak generally, Mr. Fiedler. How does it work?”
FIEDLER “It was a traffic stop. We have law enforcement who are federal officers whose jurisdiction is the Tennessee Valley, the states that we serve. With reciprocity — ”
TVA surveils highways, byways
TULIS “How far is that jurisdiction past the dam?”
FIEDLER “The entire Tennessee Valley, where Tennessee, uh, TVA, uh, authority is. So that’s seven states.”
“So you have authority to stop people driving private cars? This was a family with a child in the back. You stopped them? — A federal law enforcement stopped a family with a small child in the back for some kind of offense? Is that what you’re saying?”
FIEDLER ‘What I’m saying is it was a traffic stop.”
“What is a traffic stop? What is that? What’s the problem? What’s the offense?”
FIEDLER “I don’t know. It was a traffic stop.”
“Generally speaking, Mr. Fiedler, what do traffic stops do — when feds pull people over in a private car?”
Stop sign at end of your street in Soddy-Daisy?
FIEDLER “They are federal officers operating within the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Valley. And that’s within the Tennessee Valley Authority. That’s in the TVA Act.”
“So a federal officer could run me down and stop me in Soddy-Daisy if I run a stop sign at the end of my street? Is that what you’re saying? Is that within its authority — within the authority of your agency?”
FIEDLER “I would have to check that but potentially if there are, you know, issues, they will respond.”
“Are these federal issues or state issues?”
FIEDLER “That I don’t know. I’d have to check in on that.”
Mr. Fiedler says he will get back Monday with a headcount of traffic enforcement officers and the number of traffic stops in the area. In April, TVA said its officers would no longer be allowed to carry pistols at nuclear facilities.
A vast array of federal executive branch agencies have police agencies, from social security to the railroad retirement board to the department of education. On its website, the TVA police division says it is “federally commissioned law enforcement agency that exists to protect TVA’s employees, visitors and physical assets. This includes TVA public lands and lakes and the people who enjoy them.”
— David Tulis hosts a talk show 9 to 11 a.m. weekdays at Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.