Governor, legislative leaders announce plan to add forensic lab positions at TBI

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced a plan to add forensic lab positions at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 3:20 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2022 at 3:51 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Gov. Bill Lee and legislative leaders announced Thursday a step to accelerate the hiring process for 25 additional forensic lab positions at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

According to a news release, taking this action ahead of the regular budget process will expedite the TBI’s efforts to expand testing capacity and reduce the turnaround time for sexual assault kits.

Lee will be joined by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Speaker of the Senate, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton at a news conference to announce the process at the Tennessee State Capitol.

“For several years, Tennessee has made historic investments to support the TBI’s mission so that law enforcement can do its job and combat violent crime. As our nation faces rising crime, we are taking this additional step to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles, increase the TBI’s capacity and reduce testing turnaround times as quickly as possible,” Lee said in a statement released prior to the news conference. ‘I’m grateful for the partnership of Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and the General Assembly in this important action, and our efforts to strengthen public safety will continue.”

According to a news release, new forensic lab positions, including scientists, technicians and administrative support, will be added in each Grand Division in Tennessee:

  • Jackson Lab – 8
  • Nashville Lab – 11
  • Knoxville Lab – 6

“We have been searching for solutions to these challenges for several years now, and we are thankful for Governor Lee and leaders of both houses in continuing to hear our concerns and work with us toward permanent fixes,” TBI Director David Rausch said in a release prior to the announcement. “The commitment to fund additional positions will help us get a jump on the necessary training time to get new scientists prepared to perform their duties. This is a critical step in the process.”

The move to add the new positions comes after Cleotha Henderson was charged in the kidnapping and murder of Memphis jogger Eliza Fletcher. It was learned after Fletcher’s death that Henderson’s DNA was tied to a sexual assault kit submitted to the TBI in September 2021. The kit was analyzed 11 months later with a return matching Henderson returning on Sept. 5, the same day Fletcher’s body was found lying near an abandoned house in South Memphis.

Recurring funding for these additional forensic lab positions will be included in the state’s upcoming Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget. In the interim, the TBI will utilize existing funds in the FY 2022-23 budget.

One of the goals of the new positions is to reduce the turnaround time in processing sexual assault kits.

“We’re confident these steps will bring us closer to more efficient turnaround times and put us in a position, within the next year, to be closer to our goal of 8 to 12 weeks for all evidence,” Rausch said.

The TBI said Thursday it would begin by filling the open positions in Jackson and then post the positions for Nashville and Knoxville.