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Navigating the Rutherford County Criminal Justice System – Part 5: Law Enforcement and the First Step In

Many of Rutherford County’s residents from different levels of the community, ranging from fresh-to-town college students, members of the homeless community and regular townies all the way to lawyers, local firefighters and even law enforcement officers themselves, will speak candidly throughout town about their encounters with local police officers. These candid insights leave their own personal experiences and opinions out there for others’ ears and collectively create a general consensus and overall feeling towards the first step into the Rutherford County criminal justice system: an encounter with local law enforcement in their line of duty.

My encounters began nine years ago as an MTSU student.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 9, 2007, a friend and I walked back from the Boro Bar and Grill to a mutual friend’s house on the corner of Eaton Street and Middle Tennessee Boulevard. When returning late from The Boro, we were in our own little world talking until turning the corner onto Eaton Boulevard from Middle Tennessee when she spun around and exclaimed, “Bryce, there are lights!” just as two Murfreesboro Police Department vehicles hastily followed us around the corner, their blue lights surrounding us.

A thunderous “stop!” from an officer getting out of his vehicle halted me while the second officer pulled in front of us. He was out of his car, and reached towards my friend with his handcuffs in a flash. I got out a “hey!” at him as he handcuffed her before the first officer regained my attention to quickly shut me up with a stern warning.

Her attending officer then dug through the hedgerow to our right to my confusion and pulled his arm from the bush, holding a small glass tobacco pipe.

All of this trouble seemed unnecessary to me and when I vocalized that, that got me quickly handcuffed, too, and placed on the ground. I tried to stand up at one point to regain a role in the conversation right after that. The officer next to me made sure I did not do that as he showed me he had leverage on my shoulder. So, from the ground, I asked him why they were giving us trouble, to which he replied, “We heard a girl screaming.” And stunned with a blip of confused bafflement by what I thought was an unbelievable response, I sat there.

I spoke up again as her attending officer placed her in the back of his cruiser while my friend said “it’ll be all right.” I kept talking, though, and that put me right there in the back of that cop car next to her.

She was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. I was charged with public intoxication. And as we were both handcuffed and very under arrest, I leaned over and kissed that pretty girl for the first time in the back of that Murfreesboro Police cruiser as the only lights around us by then were the street lamps passing by the cruiser’s windows on our way to the jail.

Our arresting officer that evening was the Mufreesboro Police Department’s Bryan Anderson, accompanied by witnessing officers Wood and Brown. There were no field sobriety tests administered, nor a breathalyzer test to determine my blood alcohol content. Officer Anderson stated in his report that when he “heard a female scream from the area of Eaton Street, [he] turned [his] vehicle around and witnessed a male and a female walking down Eaton St. just off Middle Tennessee Boulevard.” According to the police report, I began to yell at the officer about detaining my friend, and I “had slurred speech and was stumbling in the roadway,” as he got closer, he could smell an odor of intoxicant on my person, and I was “placed under arrest for public intoxication due to being a danger to [myself] and others.”

Officer Anderson, who graduated from Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command in September this year and is now a Sergeant at the Murfreesboro Police Department, would run into me again while breaking up a couple of parties that friends of mine and I attended. There was never any trouble there so long as the partygoers dispersed and the noise level was lowered.

In April 2016, after checking with the Circuit Court Clerk’s office at the judicial building on the square (as well as the one at the Rutherford County Department of Probation and Recovery Services) to calculate exactly how much money I owed Rutherford County in outstanding court costs and fines from a 2013 charge I was trying to clear up and make right, a clerk brought to my attention that I still owed $15 on this public intoxication case supposedly closed almost nine years ago.

Technically, I have never been out of the system since having gotten into it nine years ago.

My second encounter with the local law enforcement occurred on the night of Monday, March 29, 2010, around 11:30 p.m. while parked at Murfreesboro’s equivalent to any small town’s “lover’s lane.” Ours is known as Tiger Hill, and it’s an even better spot for someone wanting to take a break to be alone for a second.

Unfortunately, it’s private property, though.

I had gone up to Tiger Hill that evening after an argument with a girlfriend over nothing major. After conceding defeat, I didn’t want to be around people, so I backed my truck into Tiger Hill’s narrow gravel drive, rolled the windows down, turned on a Jack Johnson album, and sat on the tailgate in the peaceful elevated sanctuary over and away from any and every one. Nothing was there to tell me I shouldn’t do that until blue lights lit the hilltop after a short while.

“He had some sad music playing loud and an unopened half-pint of whiskey next to him,” stated Sergeant Bill Dunn of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office in his police report of my arrest that evening.

“Mr. Harmon’s appearance and demeanor led me to believe that he was depressed. He stated that he had things on his mind,” the report continued.  “I could smell an odor of an intoxicant about his person. He said that he had ‘a little’ to drink. He passed field sobriety tests and I explained that he was on private property.”

Officer Dunn had two other officers with him when he found me up there.

“Mr. Harmon was somewhat uncooperative and questioned everything I said,” continued the police report. “He said that he had no weapons and did not wish to hurt himself. Mr. Harmon agreed to leave after asking why he could not stay.”

All three of the cruisers then backed out and left the way they came, so I hopped in the truck, pulled my keys out and noticed one of their cruisers doubling back up the hill in front of me with only its parking lights on. A red flag went up in my mind, so I got back out of the truck, pulled the tailgate back down and sat.

“I parked at another tower for several minutes waiting for Mr. Harmon to leave,” Officer Dunn’s report continued. “When he did not I returned to his location. I told him to leave or be arrested for trespassing. Mr. Harmon said that he believed that I was lying in wait for him to drive and arrest him for DUI.”

After I told him that, he let me call my girlfriend, but there was no answer. I then asked him for a ride home just to be safe, a request he denied. I made a comment about the “to serve and protect” decal on the side of his car, and he told me he’s not a taxi. At that point, we looked at each other in the eyes for a solid ten seconds that seemed like much longer. I knew I looked pretty annoyed and fed up and Sergeant Dunn eventually said something he looked like he didn’t want to say because of that, which was, “Take him in.”

Accompanying officer Deputy Garrett searched my truck as I was handcuffed, charged with criminal trespassing, and placed in the back of Sergeant Dunn’s cruiser to be taken to jail again.

Sergeant Dunn never told me what he was doing up there that evening, but his initial concern for my well-being in a situation that appeared to him as a depressed individual possibly considering self-harm is commendable.

My last arrest is a case that has remained open for more than three years now.

On the night of May 7, 2013, I was pulled over after exiting from 840 onto Highway 41, or Broad Street.  There were three unmarked white SUVs sitting in the grass median just before the Murfreesboro city lights begin, and I drove past with no disturbance and resumed dancing while driving shortly after, as some people do when by themselves.

Blue lights seemed to come out of nowhere when I came close to the corner of Northfield Boulevard and Broad Street, so I pulled over and was told I swerved into the white line as I fumbled with the lightless CD player to turn the volume down.

“I was dancing to some J.T.,” I said, as if he’d say, “Oh, yeah, the new album is pretty catchy.” Officer Michael Rodgers of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office instead responded, “What?” and the situation turned embarrassing for me from there.

He later stated in the police report that he “noticed that [my truck] swayed back and forth between the lines of the lane and rode along the white line to the right. In the distance between Route 840 and Northfield Boulevard, the truck also crossed the white line at least three times.” He continued that my “eyes were watery and that [I] would not look directly at [him].” The report also stated that my motions were erratic and my speech was very quiet and slurred. Additionally, he “could smell a strong scent of an intoxicating beverage” before asking me to exit the vehicle. At the rear of the truck, he asked me if I had anything to drink that night. I stated that I had not. I also stated that I had not taken any medication. He did not believe me “based partly on the very strong smell of an alcoholic beverage.”

From there, after the field sobriety tests, Officer Rodgers asked permission to perform a breathalyzer test but by this time I was remaining silent. He informed me he was arresting me and charging me with driving under the influence, as well as violation of implied consent law, so there was no breathalyzer, nor blood test taken at the nearest hospital that would determine mostly any form of an intoxicant’s presence in my bloodstream, such as alcohol and pills, as Officer Rodgers had asked about. Denial to participate (remaining silent) during a police detainment included the violation of implied consent charge as Tennessee law states, “if the operator of a motor vehicle who has been placed under arrest for driving under the influence refuses to give consent to a test to determine the alcoholic or drug content of that person’s blood, the test or tests to which the person refused shall not be given” according to Tennessee Code Annotated [section] 55-10-406(a)(4)(A). Anyone refusing to do so will 100 percnt be arrested and taken to jail, though and this refusal option does not apply for anyone being charged with aggravated assault with a vehicle or homicide with a vehicle in Tennessee.

Officer Rodgers then drove me to the Rutherford County Jail while his backup officer, Deputy Allen, stayed with my truck and waited for the wrecker to move it from the side of the road.

After encounters with our local law enforcement such as these three, the next step is being jailed.

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