You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy!
The Body Guard.
It’s Tuesday morning, March 6th. I’m on 65 driving North when I get a text.
“Shots fired at a Metro School Bus. 1st and Carroll streets.”
Nashville is a city where violence is surging like a science experiment bubbling out of a beaker.
Children are committing crimes so vile, so horrendous, that the mayor has made youth violence a state of emergency.
It’s a wise decision by the city’s highest leader. Just one problem. Lately that message is lost in the salacious news of her scandal.
So I call the newsroom.
“Hey, we got multiple shots fired at a school bus stop. I hear kids had to run for their lives. Cops are responding. I’m not sure if anyone is hit.”
On any given day this is the lead story. If children are hurt, we’re breaking into coverage.
Then the enormity of the mayoral scandal hits me.
“I ain’t got nobody to send,” the frenzied assignment editor replies. “I got everyone at the courthouse. The mayor is pleading guilty to felony theft charges.”
It’s not yet 8am and this day is a lit bottle rocket. The fuse is sparking, the black powder about to erupt in a global embarrassment of sex and power and corruption.
The mayor is pleading guilty to felony theft of public funds.
I hang up and think about how we got to this point.
For the last month, the news has been a grind to find the truth. Reporters are like dogs hunting for a bone buried in a back yard. Journalists have been digging up morsels of dirt, sifting through rumors and turning over tiny piles of truth, looking for scraps of something.
Today, the entire side of beef will be revealed, the flesh exposed. The media, the public, anyone with a salacious need to cast stones will sink their fangs into the raw political meat and rip apart the flesh of two people whose lives are going down more publicly than the Hindenburg.
I’ve known the Body Guard since I got to the Music City in 96. Back then Nashville was not the IT city, where glass hotels pop out of the Earth like a fertile field of corn.
Back in the mid 90’s, Nashville was a honky tonk soufflé. Music City was a salty mix of Lower Broad homeless camps, country music aspirations and prostitutes churning tricks fueled by new publications like backpage dot com.
Back in the day, Tootsie was a working girl willing to give her Orchid Lounge to anyone for a price.
I’m not sure how I met the body guard. I just remember him being the guy on the other end of the phone.
“Hey, we’re busting a back page dot com scam. You interested?”
I answered that call dozens of times over the years.
Under the aggressive enforcement of the Vice Unit, lead by the Body Guard, a Sergeant with the Metro Police, I walked down hookers, pimps and gambling hall home boys.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the body guard made sure I had plenty of walkdowns.
I had more exclusives than other reporters had stories. I had so much video, so much sound, I was throwing it away during the editing process.
Meanwhile, the public information officer would get the story after me, putting out a press release with a mug shot, maybe a picture. The other TV stations would run that.
I’d have the entire story from beginning to end. Hookers crying. Cash machines being destroyed. Johns flipping me off in a tyrade of cuss words and frantic energy.
My favorite memory was in the late 90’s. Metro Vice teamed up with Franklin Police to combat prostitution that was coming from Nashville into Williamson County.
The sting was in a hotel room inside the Marriott Hotel in Cool Springs. The room was filled with a dozen Metro and Franklin Vice Cops.
I was greeted by smiles. I was a reporter who was trusted.
The men in this room knew that I was looking for the truth, to tell a story, and I had a positive view on what they did and why they were doing it. They’d have to screw the pooch pretty badly for me to make that the story.
This night was special. Everything about it was different.
The officers had two adjoining hotel rooms. They had a special exray camera that allowed them to view the adjoining room.
I remember seeing a monitor, with a grainy figure of a man sitting on the bed in the adjoining room. I would come to learn that man was a confidential informant known as a C.I.
The C.I. was posing as a John, who had ordered 2 prostitutes from a back page ad. The women came from Nashville, crossed over the county line and entered the hotel to have sex with this man.
As the women entered the hotel room, the anticipation inside the adjoining room began to simmer. The Body Guard watched the monitor intently, reminding his squad what the mission parameters included.
I remember viewing the monitor as the two prostitutes got into bed with the C.I. I remember hearing muffled small talk in the dimly lit room. Then the words ended and the sounds of a sexual transaction began.
“Did he give the signal?” one of the many cops asked.
When sex was initiated, the C.I. was suppose to give the signal and the cops would come busting through the door and make the arrest.
But a funny thing happened on the way to that bust. The C.I. forgot he was a C.I. and instead he was just a derelict in bed with 2 prostitutes getting some free loving bought and paid for by the cops.
“Is he having sex?” someone asked.
The sounds of pleasure were certainly loud enough to make that assumption.
After a few moments too late, the cops bust through the door, shine their lights on the bewildered hookers and frustrated C.I. and make the arrest.
Did the C.I. have a happy ending? Who knows? Did the women get charged with prostitution? Yes they did.
I turned this into a special 2 part series called sex over the line. The premise being that Williamson County, where the raid took place, has harsher penalites on Prostitution than Davidson County just a few minutes to the North.
The series was a huge hit with everyone except the other TV stations. They got smoked while this story literally changed the way C.I.’s were used by law enforcement.
Some argued that the city was paying for sex to bust women who were then providing a C.I., technically a city employee, sex.
It’s a point with legitimacy and the raid I covered was essentially the last of its kind. To my knowledge, Metro Vice never again used a C.I. to lure call girls to a hotel.
This is the kind of amazing access I had when the body guard was running the Vice Unit in Nashville. I was basically an undercover cop with a camera. I was granted access into a world where only affadavits and mug shots had previously existed.
Though the Body Guard moved on to a protection detail for the Mayors of Nashville, I have maintained a dialogue with him for almost 20 years.
The swell of stories diminished dramatically over the last ten years, but the professional friendship remained.
Then I got a call from the Body Guard. He told me that he was getting a new phone number. After 20 years, he has a new number?
I’m resigning from the Police Department, he will say, leaving out most of the details. He mentioned something about it being time to get his own life in order.
I am sad he is leaving the ranks of the police department, but I don’t view the conversation as much more than another cop retiring and moving on. It’s a hard job. A thankless job. A tiring job that has the potential to wreck a personal life if you let it.
A week later, that call will make much more sense as the Nashville Mayor gets on TV and confesses to a steamy affair with the Body Guard that included trips abroad and possible misuse of tax payer dollars.
From that moment, almost no other story in Nashville is as talked about. Inside the newsroom there’s a palpable frenzy. Outside the newsroom, citizens have a lurid, almost unhealthy need to know more. Because of this, the cauldron of intrigue swirls as the TBI and the D.A.’s office open investigations into wrong doing.
The mayor tries to carry on business as usual, tweeting about planting more trees and a billion dollar transit plan.
The citizens are deaf. They are angry. They dog pile on every tweet, every sentence, calling the mayor everything from a Harlet to an embarrassment.
The IT city is now the S*** City leading the nightly news for it’s scandalous headlines and sexual debauchery.
The Body Guard disappears from sight. A distinguished 30 year career is suddenly tainted with innuendo and speculation. Everyone is intrigued. Everyone wants a piece of the body guard on camera.
My 20 year relationship with a guy who I consider a friend is now in play.
I make it clear that what I may know between friends is private, but I will keep open avenues of communication in case the body guard wants to relay something.
I tell the body guard early into this contretemps that he is not a public figure. While she has to talk about who she had sex with at every public event, he is now retired. He should stay quiet and fix his own life which is more splintered than a log truck spill on the interstate.
But as a newsman, I want the interview. I tell him that he shouldn’t talk. BUT if he is going to talk, then he should talk to me. I will be fair and represent what he wants to communicate.
So it is on this day, that shots are fired at a bus stop, a story we will not be covering, that the story of the love affair between the mayor and her body guard spins out of control. The story nose dives from a thousand feet in a spiraling, fiery trail of insanity.
In the time it takes me to get to work, the mayor pleads guilty to felony theft. In return for her plea, she agrees to step down as mayor. She will do no jail time if she pays back $11,000 in cash and doesn’t get in trouble for 3 years.
The media is savage. Every reporter and anchor is called in. It’s as big a story as the IT city can remember.
Along the way, the body guard’s life is blown up too. He can’t choose to stay in the shadows today. He is arrested and charged with felony theft. He is ordered to pay back $45,000 to the city. He has 3 years of supervised probation.
I am across town getting reaction from citizens across the globe to this international embarrassment when I see the body guard leave the booking office and walk into the phalanx of reporters and cameras. They are licking their chops as this piece of meat, head down, tries to push past them.
The questions are probing, rude, interrogatory. They have to be. It is the nature of the beast. The Body Guard watched countless number of suspects endure this same type of public scrutiny. Today he is the center of that media S*** storm.
The body guard looks frazzled as he fights his way through the cameras and extended microphones and intrusive questions of wrong doing.
In this moment, I feel for the body guard. He use to be the man on the other side of the badge. He was the Sgt. watching me walk down prostitutes and question them about illegal activity that made this city seedy and dangerous. The man now being scrutinized dedicated more than 30 years of his life to transforming this hay seed of a town into the IT city. In the time it takes to fire up a portable live unit, he is reduced to a beaten soul, struggling to walk to a waiting truck, that will whisk him away from this soiled insanity.
During a five hour stretch of live coverage, I am asked about my history with the body guard. I didn’t expect the question, but perhaps I should have. I was live and had to dance quickly, and I do.
I talk about the good work I believe he did over decades of service to his city. I talk about what the city was like in those days, where you could go into the back of a convenience store, wink at the owner and sit down at a video poker machine that was literally paying you cash.
My boss likes what he hears in the live shot and he wants me to do something similar for the evening shows.
I don’t initially like the story assignment. It feels like there will be no objectivity in the piece.
The newsroom wants a personal flavor. They want to know more about the body guard who throughout the course of this sordid tale has said nothing publicly.
I text the body guard. I hardly expect him to respond. He has been thrown into a scalding skillet of news. He’s been fingerprinted, walked down and publicly ridiculed from Peoria to Portland. I don’t expect to hear a thing. But I let him know that I am doing a story that will illustrate the good police work that also makes up his life.
I text him this is his chance to make some sort of statement.
I am shocked when he texts me back. Tell people I was professional and fair, that I never once got into trouble in my entire career.
It’s not much, but in this story of quiet, and no comments it is a megaphone screaming into a quiet church sanctuary.
I air the story with the body guard’s statement.
His lawyer calls the newsroom asking how we got a quote from his client.
The body guard will text me later and say thank you for being a good friend.
I don’t usually get that response. I don’t usually want that response after a story.
But this story is unlike any I have covered.
In this case, I am glad for the text.
I hope the body guard can go quietly into the night, fix his life and family and fade from the headlines.
But if he needs to tell his story. I hope he will call me.