It sounds like a scene from a mafia film: In a covert meeting, a drug-dealing, crooked cop agrees to sell information about a confidential informant to another drug dealer. But unbeknownst to the cop, the other dealer is secretly taping the conversation for the FBI.
Last week, the FBI arrested Thomas Braswell, an officer with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO), and charged him with bribery for allegedly selling confidential information. Pending an investigation, he was relieved of duty with pay.
According to the complaint filed with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Braswell received $500 late last month from an undercover informant posing as a coke and steroids dealer in exchange for the address, Social Security number, driver's license history, and date of birth of another informant used in the SCSO investigations.
Braswell obtained the information through SCSO computers and read it out over the phone. All the while, the informant was taping the conversation. Several other conversations were also taped via telephone and during face-to-face meetings.
During one conversation, Braswell discussed his efforts to obtain steroids. Sheriff Mark Luttrell says it was Braswell's drug involvement that prompted the FBI investigation.
"In this case, officers were working on some drug crimes. In the course of that routine investigation, this case came up involving [Braswell]," says Luttrell. "They just started following the leads. It wasn't a situation where we started out targeting a particular officer."
Though Braswell's primary duties were those of a patrolman, he had access to the same informant database that drug and gang units have.
"There's certain information that all of our law enforcement officers have access to," says Luttrell. "It's considered for official use only. That doesn't mean it's top-secret or highly classified. But there is an understanding that it's considered to be sensitive information not to be released to the public."
Luttrell acknowledges that Braswell could have put an informant in danger had he given that information to a real drug dealer. He says that informants range from "John Q. Citizen to someone with a criminal background."
"Fortunately, we became aware of this in time. We were able to control it," says Luttrell. "We just have to be very aggressive in responding to it."
As a result, Luttrell says the SCSO will be beefing up lessons about handling sensitive information in their in-service training, the 40 hours of classes every officer takes annually.
They'll also be looking at their system of storing confidential information.
"Anytime you have an event like this, you certainly look at your internal procedures to see if your restrictions are tight enough," says Luttrell. "We'll go through that routine process of accessing our security."
Braswell is the third SCSO officer charged in a federal investigation since 2005. According to personnel records obtained by the Flyer, Braswell was cited for attempting to start a fight with another officer in 2004. He's also been cited for improper handling of a traffic ticket, accidentally discharging his weapon in the prison ward, and crashing his police vehicle.