NASHVILLE — Lapses in communication between federal and local authorities over the weekend meant top staff in the Metro Nashville Police Department reportedly weren’t aware of Anthony Quinn Warner’s recent history with the department until nearly two days after the Christmas Day explosion.
Nashville Police Chief John Drake on Wednesday said many in the police department were without AT&T cellphone service over the weekend. The blast, which took place near a downtown AT&T facility, crippled telecommunication systems across the Southeast.
The Tennessean obtained the 2019 police report Tuesday evening through a public records request.
Asked why police or the FBI didn’t alert the public once they realized there was a 2019 report on Warner, Drake said his agency wanted to review and gather more information to better understand what happened in 2019. That review is ongoing, Drake said.
He defended the department in how it handled the August 2019 tip about Anthony Quinn Warner building bombs in an RV parked outside his home.
Drake said officers in 2019 attempted to reach Warner several times to discuss claims he was making bombs, which were reported by his girlfriend.
But after they failed to make contact with Warner and once the FBI said there were no alerts for him in their database, Nashville police ended their queries. Officers didn’t try obtain a search warrant for the home or RV.
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Drake said he did not believe police had enough information to receive a warrant.
“It would have taken signs that a crime was actually being committed, that a bomb was actually being made,” Drake said during a news conference Wednesday, adding that an application for a search warrant “would have been denied” by a judge.
‘Can’t kick in a door based off a tip’
Bobby Young, a former MNPD detective in the department’s specialized investigation division, said the report the department released shows officers did everything they were supposed to do.
“You clearly can’t just kick in the door based off a tip,” said Young, who spent 10 years with the department and now operates Covert Results, a private investigation business.
Young, who worked on drug investigations as a cop, estimates he applied for a couple of hundred search warrants during his law enforcement career. He said there are strategies detectives can employ to try to gather probable cause for a judge to grant a warrant, such as surveillance, setting up a pole camera or interviewing neighbors.
He questions whether there was adequate communication between the specialized investigation division, the bomb squad or other units in the department in the days after the 2019 report was filed.
“That could be some sort of communication failure with the past administration,” Young said of the police department under former Chief Steve Anderson, who retired in August amid widespread calls for his resignation. “When a bomb complaint comes in, who gets it and where does it go?”
In August 2019, that information was shared with the FBI.
The FBI defended its 2019 response, saying the agency provided Nashville police with the information the department requested on Warner, but “there was no report of any crime,” said Joel Siskovic, a spokesperson for the FBI in Memphis.
“The FBI does not make a practice of investigating and looking into individuals absent criminal charges, criminal allegations,” Siskovic said. “So, I can’t get too far into how our system works, but basically if there had been any reason to believe that there was a crime, specifically a federal crime, then we would have taken further steps.”
Young said compared with other police departments of similar size, MNPD lacks liaisons on task forces with federal departments. While the department has one FBI task force officer on staff, there are none for other federal agencies, said Young, who is a Nashville Fraternal Order of Police board member.
Drake said Wednesday he just learned the department has no officer assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, but he would soon assign one.
‘Shrugged their shoulders on this’
Nashville lawyer Jamie Hollin, who represented Community Oversight Now, which advocated for a citizen-led police oversight board in 2018, said more “competence and persistence” from MNPD investigators could have led to a judge issuing a search warrant.
“There has to be accountability,” Hollin said. “It had catastrophic consequences. This will tarnish the credibility of that department for the next 25 years if not handled correctly now.”
Nashville attorney Bryan Stephenson said he won’t fault police for declining to violate someone’s constitutional rights, but said in other cases officers put in the investigative work to find probable cause.
“Everybody is entitled to the same protections,” Stephenson said. “It’s just so infuriating that we spend so much time busting down people’s doors for drug offenses and devastating lives and shooting people and all this stuff, and they kind of just shrugged their shoulders on this.”
Follow Natalie Allison on Twitter: @natalie_allison.