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The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A Tennessee state trooper was suspended Tuesday after investigators said he used his position to conduct 182 background checks - at least some of them unauthorized - on people including two journalists and a country music figure.
Officials with the Tennessee Highway Patrol declined to name the people who were checked. Investigators did not recognize the names of any elected officials or politicians on the list, said Col. Mike Walker, the THP's commander.
The latest suspension adds to a series of scandals involving the department in recent years.
Walker and Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell were brought in to help clean up the department's image after its top three officials resigned in December 2005 following reports of troopers with criminal backgrounds, allegations of ticket-fixing and a culture of cronyism and political arm-twisting.
Many of the problems were revealed in a series of investigative stories by The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.
In another unrelated scandal, a trooper resigned last year after a porn actress claimed he let drug charges slide in exchange for oral sex in an encounter captured on video.
Suspended Lt. Ronnie Shirley accessed the records between October and July, Walker said. Shirley's motive remains unclear.
"It looks more for nosiness purposes, maybe," Walker said. "There does not appear to be any pattern of any type where there is an attempt to harm someone."
Investigators aren't sure how many of those checks were improper, but Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell said "there were unauthorized queries, absolutely."
Some of Shirley's records checks appear to have been made at the request of others, Walker said. Shirley has been placed on administrative leave until the investigation is complete.
Officials say the internal Web portal accessed by Shirley does not include criminal background records. Much of the information Shirley looked at is available to the general public, though some records are not, like those kept in a Correction Department database.
Gov. Phil Bredesen described what Shirley was accused of doing as "rummaging around in the driver's license records and those types of things."
Bredesen said he was satisfied by the early results of the investigation.
"There is at this point no evidence whatsoever any public officials were targeted or any political maneuverings going on," he said.
Shirley first got attention in 2004 after helping get a speeding ticket dismissed for former Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley, who was then Bredesen's top aide. An investigation into the ticket-fixing resulted in reprimands for Cooley and Shirley.
Bredesen, a Democrat, said the current investigation shows the agency is serious about addressing its problems.
"I know anything that involves the THP is juicy fodder," he said. "But the last couple of years they've done an awful lot to clean that place up."

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MassCops Angel
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Tenn. trooper fired for 'snooping'

By Erik Schelzig
The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper accused of conducting unauthorized background checks on nearly 200 people, including two journalists and a country music figure, was fired Wednesday.
Lt. Ronnie Shirley was fired for gross misconduct and violating the public's trust, Highway Patrol Col. Mike Walker said. Shirley conducted 182 background checks, and of 139 people interviewed by investigators, only seven had asked Shirley to do the check, officials said.
Shirley is entitled to a hearing to contest the firing. His attorney, Worrick G. Robinson, said Shirley was "very disappointed and was somewhat in shock" when he found out about the firing.
Shirley, who was suspended last month, has been cooperating with investigators, and that "there was no malicious intent and no criminal intent involved" in the checks, Robinson said.
State officials refused to release the names Shirley checked, but no politicians or elected officials were among them, said Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell. He declined to give any possible motives for the checks.
Shirley used an internal Web portal that doesn't include criminal background records, and much of the information he looked at is available to the general public - though often for a fee. He ran the checks between October 2006 and July, when his access was cut off.
Prosecutors are reviewing the investigation and Nashville District Attorney's office spokeswoman Susan Niland said they do not have a deadline for deciding whether to pursue criminal charges.
Shirley first got attention in 2004 when he helped get a speeding ticket dismissed for former Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley, who had been Gov. Phil Bredesen's top aide. Shirley and Cooley both received reprimands for the ticket-fixing.
Shirley's firing is the latest in a series of scandals involving the department in recent years.
The department's top three officials resigned in December 2005 following reports of troopers with criminal backgrounds, allegations of ticket-fixing and a culture of cronyism and political arm-twisting.
Many of the problems were revealed in a series of investigative stories by The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. The paper also has reported that staff writer Brad Schrade was among those who had their backgrounds checked by Shirley.
In another scandal, a state trooper resigned last year after a porn actress claimed he let drug charges slide in exchange for oral sex in an encounter captured on video.
"We have people who make mistakes. It's not the total group," Walker said Wednesday. "If there are more out there we will find them and deal with them accordingly, I assure you."

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