Tennessee law appears to allow for TVA officers to enforce Tennessee commercial and criminal statutes against people along the highways and byways of Hamilton or any other of the state’s 94 counties.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM
The officers are charged with protecting TVA investments and assets, but are liberally construing the Tennessee statute to give them new work in traffic enforcement.
They have authority “to make arrests for public offenses committed against TVA officials or employees or committed upon, about, or against TVA property or on public roads or rights-of-way passing through or over such property.”
Not having enough to do to protect electrical substations, turbines and utility infrastructure at coal and nuclear plants, TVA officers are today chasing travelers and motor vehicle operators on Highway 153 and other public rights of way using total surveillance equipment called LPRs.
An appeal for the restraint of their activity would need to be directed to the officers’ original mission and not to Tennessee law, however, because the statute seems generous to these law enforcers in its scope and permission.
Pre-empting the sheriff
The provisions that consider federal officer authority are in TCA 38-3-113 and TCA 83-3-120, the first titled “federal law officers making arrest for non-federal offenses,” and secondarily, “peace officers in Tennessee valley authority.”
This authority is important because in every county the sheriff is the conservator of the peace. In contradistinction to law enforcement, peacekeeping is by law about the following: The duty to suppress all affrays, riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, insurrections and other breaches of the peace with the aid of the county’s male inhabitants if necessary.
Federal officials apparently enforce state commercial laws such as those under Title 55 of the Tennessee code — the commercial transportation code to which most Tennesseans voluntarily apply — either by agreement, covenant or delegation.
By either one of these methods — or by a high act of usurpation against local people and their constitutional government.
When pressed in an interview Monday about a traffic arrest by TVA cop Scott E. Stone, the electricity utility and federal landowner spokesman Scott Fiedler refused to identify the source of the authority and simply said Mr. Stone is a federal law enforcement officer with a public safety duty and acted accordingly.
At issue is the 7:30 p.m. Saturday auto traffic and commercial transportation stop against the occupants in the four-door sedan with a baby toying with his bare feet behind them in a red restrainer seat.
An arrest occurs when a citizen is not free to leave the officer’s control and power. The word arrest and stop are synonymous, but Mr. Fiedler rejects the usage “arrest.” Mr. Stone arrested the sedan and its occupants, but as an act of federal grace did not take any of the three people before a magistrate for booking, jailing and bonding to sessions (or other) court, act implied in the initial power to stop.
Limits on federal cop immunity
The first provision is about federal cops’ immunity from lawsuits for wrongs and torts. Officer Stone is immune if he:
➤ “Reasonably believes that the person arrested has committed a felony in the officer’s presence or is committing a felony in the officer’s presence”
➤ Reasonably believes the person arrested has committed or is committing “a misdemeanor that amounts to breach of the peace.”
➤ A law enforcement officer has asked the federal officer for help in a “state of emergency.”
Is an expired tag “a misdemeanor that amounts to a breach of the peace,” thereby giving him immunity? Did Mr. Stone witness a felony in the traffic stop?
TN law’s iffy relation to federal cops
The second provision tells how TVA may apply to the state commissioner of safety for “the appointment and commissioning” of people “as peace officers” and how these officers gain power over the people of Tennessee.
In sum, Mr. Stone:
➤ Must be under a small bond (F$50,000)
➤ Must have sworn to uphold the Tennessee constitution
➤ Act pursuant to explicit authority from the TVA board
➤ May enforce nonfederal laws as they pertain to protecting TVA property
The officer shall take an oath, presumably to uphold the Tennessee constitution, and shall “enter into a surety bond in the sum of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), payable to the state of Tennessee, conditioned upon the faithful performance of all duties.” This bond must be on record with the Tennessee secretary of state as to Mr. Stone’s person if TVA has not posted a bond for the total number of officers in one fell swoop. It’s not immediately known which, if either, of these protections for the people is in force.
The law states that the officer is limited in his duties pursuant to the TVA board of directors, which presumably grants or withholds from Mr. Stone his powers to act. The law is vague, referring to “the scope of assigned duties as specified or limited within the exclusive judgment of TVA board of directors.” Presumably there is a protocol detailing and enumerating these powers and whether traffic stops are among them.
Mr. Stone has authority to make arrests — but here, too, a limit. The offenses for which officer Stone may make an arrest are limited to “public offenses committed against TVA officials” or “committed upon *** TVA property.”
Mr. Stone’s transjurisdictional powers are noted in his ability to “pursue the person and make arrests anywhere in the state.” He has
the power to make arrests for public offenses committed against TVA officials or employees or committed upon, about, or against TVA property or on public roads or rights-of-way passing through or over such property, and, while in pursuit of a person fleeing after committing such an offense, may pursue the person and make arrest anywhere in the state (italics added) TCA 38-3-120(b)
Mr. Fiedler’s expansive claims about 100 percent TVA police jurisdiction in any and all parts of Tennessee seem borne out by this statute.
An expired auto tag on a car passing over a TVA dam creates a cause of criminal action against Tennesseans or visitors to the state, and officer Stone, in his disguised SUV police interceptor, can chase a traveler into neighborhoods and byways remote from any body of regulated water or any federal government facility.
A murderer who crosses Thrasher bridge over the Chickamauga locks becomes a federal subject under Mr. Fiedler’s expansive reading of TVA authority. Murder is a state crime, however.
Powers of public execution
TVA officers have the familiar power of summary execution (“deadly force”) granted to police officers serving local sheriffs and also corporation mayors such as Chattanooga’s Andy Berke and East Ridge’s Brent Lambert. Mr. Lambert in August 2016 was delivered an extra-judicial summary front-yard neighborhood execution of East Ridge plumber Todd Browning. Sheriff Jim Hammond and state district attorney Neal Pinkston upheld the execution as lawful.
When a TVA officer is no longer on the force, the agency is required to notify Gov. Bill Haslam’s department of safety and homeland security, whereupon “the powers of the officer shall cease and terminate.”