No investigation when suspected drugs found at home of official - WSMV News 4

No investigation when suspected drugs found at home of ABC director

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Suspected marijuana was found by three police officers at the home of the director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, whose mission is to eradicate marijuana.

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found the drugs were never seized or investigated.

An employee of the ABC, who agreed to speak with the Channel 4 I-Team if we hid his identity, said if suspected drugs were found at his house, he would expect to be arrested or at the very least, interrogated.

"I grant you, if that had happened to any of us (ABC employees), we would have been made an example of. We would have been in headlines in the papers, the news, and everywhere else," the ABC employee said.

But none of that happened to his boss, Danielle Elks, when the suspected drugs were found at her home in October.

"Do you think this was a cover up?" asked chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.

"It sure appears that way," the ABC employee said. "It stayed mighty quiet for a long period of time."

The ABC is mostly known for cracking down on illegal activity in bars, but their agents also are responsible for marijuana eradication.

The ABC employee who spoke with the I-Team admits they have a very low tolerance for any type of marijuana, given that even small amounts of marijuana can lead them to a dealer.

That's why the ABC employee said he and his fellow workers were upset to learn that three police officers found what they suspected was marijuana at Elks' home on Oct. 12,2011.

Elks was married to Joel "Taz" Digregorio, the beloved keyboardist in the Charlie Daniels band.

When Digregorio was killed in a car crash on Oct. 12, a THP trooper and two Dickson County deputies went to his home for a death notification.

Elks was in Memphis at the time, but the officers didn't know.

The Channel 4 I-Team obtained the deputies' summaries of what happened.

According to the police summaries, the officers found the back door open and entered, concerned there may have been an intruder and wanting to check on the welfare of the occupants.

When the deputies and the state trooper went in, the deputies say they saw what they both suspected to be marijuana on the kitchen table, describing it as a "green, leafy substance."

The deputies also found rolling papers, and noted that there was a Governor's Marijuana Eradication Task Force sticker in the kitchen.

One of the deputies wrote, "It (the suspected marijuana) was brought to the attention of the THP officer."

One of Elks' business cards was also found in the home.

A source close to the investigation confirmed there was no attempt to collect the substance, and the THP trooper never launched an investigation.

The ABC employee said it sends the wrong message, and that if drugs are found at an average citizens' home, even under terrible circumstances, it can still be investigated.

"If you've got two people living in the same house, and they don't know what the other is doing, there's something bad wrong," the ABC employee said.

Digregorio's autopsy showed both alcohol and marijuana were in his system when his car crashed.

"Some people at home seeing this might be saying, the woman just lost her husband. Give her a break," Finley asked.

"We're all sympathetic of her loss, of her husband, I would not wish that upon any person at any time. It's illegal despite the circumstances behind it," the ABC employee said.

Even though the deputies wrote in their account that what they suspected to be marijuana was a very small amount, the ABC employee said their agents routinely launch investigations even after small amounts of drugs are found, in order to find the dealer.

"Any way you handle it, you're going to be the subject to severe criticism. If you make a case,you're going to face severe criticism. If you walk away, you're going to face severe criticism. The problem is, both criticisms are correct," said criminal justice professor Tom Jones, who reviewed how the case was handled for the Channel 4 I-Team.

The Channel 4 I-Team did confirm that three months after the suspected drugs were discovered, the THP asked the TBI to investigate how the case was handled.

The I-Team asked to speak with Col. Tracy Trott of the THP, but his spokeswoman declined, sending an email stating, "We were notified of a possible criminal violation by one of our troopers. We asked the TBI to investigate."

The THP spokeswoman said when they reviewed the TBI's investigation, the THP found their trooper committed no criminal or administrative violations.

The Channel 4 I-Team was respectful of Danielle Elks given her recent loss, but we did ask her to speak with us to give her side of this story. She declined.

Our repeated attempts to reach the ABC commissioner over the Middle Tennessee region were unsuccessful.

The TBI investigative file into how the suspected drugs were handled ultimately ended up with District Attorney General Dan Alsobrook, who declined to press charges.

The TBI case file is closed to the public.

The THP spokeswoman said generally, if there is a measurable amount of drugs found, THP troopers should make an arrest, seize the drugs and launch an investigation.

But the account from the deputies states that there was such a small amount of suspected drugs in  Elks' home, it would be difficult to test.

Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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