The La Vergne police department has come under scrutiny this week, as allegations of police misconduct led the department to fire a presumably gay police officer.

On July 24, Office Jason Helkenberg was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into improprieties he had allegedly committed. The department moved ahead and fired him just a day later, a little less than a year after he joined the force, according to Christopher Merchant of the Daily News Journal. Internal affairs records indicate that the department had overwhelming evidence that Helkenberg “alleged inappropriate sexual activity, visiting adult and social media sites and posting photographs online while on duty and divulging criminal information to non-law enforcement persons, according to the records.”

Police allege that Helkenberg used the social media app Grindr while on duty to find at least one man to engage in a sexual encounter, and that the encounter occurred in Helkenberg’s squad car while he was on duty. According to Larry Flowers of WSMV-TV Nashville, it was a friend of the man Helkenberg met on Grindr who alerted police to the impropriety.

Flowers also reported, more troublingly, that Helkenberg abused his post to look up inappropriate information on an 18-year-old whom Helkenberg had previously arrested with possession of marijuana. Helkenberg then shared details of the arrest via Facebook Messenger with the man with whom he had met on Grindr.

"Anytime you divulge confidential criminal information you are putting the lives of officers on the line, making them susceptible, potentially, to harm," Chief Mike Walker said.

Guilt or innocence aside, one can’t help but wonder if this is a unique incident, rare and only coincidentally engaging the LGBT community, or if this instance is indicative of a more widespread turmoil in the department for which Helkenberg is now taking a fall, thanks to his Grindr hook-up’s “friend.”

There are just three comments posted online following the original report from dnj.com and all of them agree this may just be the tip of an iceberg. A commenter named Keith wrote:

I used to live in La Vergne several years ago and I can almost guarantee that if you continue to investigate you’ll uncover more of the police force in La Vergne guilty of doing what you caught this one officer [sic]. Think about it, he was new … had to learn the behavior somewhere and had to feel comfortable about getting away with it somehow right?

Nevertheless, the Daily News Journal reported that Helkenberg sent a lengthy email apologizing to the Chief and admitting his guilt, saying that he had disappointed the chief and the force by letting his personal life interfere with his work. His words sound like an admission of guilt, at least with regard to the sexual encounter: "This is my private downfall," Helkenberg said in the email. "I have let my private life interfere with work."

At this point, it seems as if Helkenberg’s dismissal had nothing to do with his sexual orientation, a point that Chief Walker was keen to reinforce: "Had nothing with his preferences, etc.; it had to do with what he did as a law enforcement officer, on duty with the city of La Vergne.”

The La Vergne police, though, are no strangers to controversy.

In May of this year, Sgt. John Eubank and Officer Louis Powell from the La Vergne Police Department were filmed beating a suspect, Mike Ticas. According to the Daily News Journal, the videos show officers punching Ticas in the face while he was pinned to the ground.  According to Chief Mike Walker, as reported by WKRN, footage from the dash cam of the police car will exonerate the officers.

 

 

 

graphic via WSMV & Grindr

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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