TN police force accused of withholding records in second death

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

KNOXVILLE — When an Oak Ridge City Council member called out her police department for what she calls serious transparency problems, she was reacting to complaints from two grieving mothers in very separate cases.

In addition to the previously covered case of Alex Heitman, there’s also the case of 26-year-old Sarah McAdams, who was discovered floating face down last summer in the Oak Ridge Civic Center fountain.

McAdams died nearly two weeks later.

Sarah McAdams

To this day, McAdams’ mother, Lori Holt, complains she still doesn’t know enough about how her daughter died, and the Oak Ridge Police Department haven’t released records she’s legally entitled to have.

At some point, Holt corresponded with Heitman’s mother, Annette. Both women live in states other than Tennessee — Heitman in Wisconsin and Holt in South Carolina.

The two women eventually corresponded with Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn.

Baughn, in a letter this week to her colleagues on the council and City Manager Mark Watson, said city officials have been careless in handling the McAdams and Heitman cases.

“The council was initially alerted to the situation and were told that she died but then subsequently was revived,” Baughn wrote about McAdams.

“We were never informed that she lived for a few more weeks nor that she eventually died at Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge. No further information was revealed about her case until her mother, Lori Holt, was reported to be searching for answers six months later.”

Holt told Tennessee Watchdog she managed to get the initial incident report, hospital records and death certificate.

“She was apparently abusing inhalant drugs and either arrested and fell into a fountain — or became possibly disoriented and fell into a fountain and was then arrested. That she was arrested and then fell into the fountain part kind of gets me,” Holt said.

Holt also believes the initial police report she read was incomplete, as parts were not filled out. Holt also said an autopsy wasn’t done on her daughter.

Trina Baughn

“I managed to get the incident report, but there’s lots of other things that I want to get. I want to get the written statements from the witnesses. I want to get the report from the fire and rescue. I want to get the 911 calls from that day,” Holt said.

“Why was she found four-fifths of a mile from her house? She didn’t have her ID, no phone, no purse, and she didn’t have her eyeglasses, and she was profoundly nearsighted.”

“I also just want to know if she was in police custody before she ended up in the fountain.”

‘Not helpful’

According to Baughn’s letter, Oak Ridge police told Holt in November she could obtain additional police reports, if she filed the proper paperwork, which she did immediately.

Two weeks later, Baughn’s letter said, city officials told Holt they couldn’t fulfill her request as the matter was still pending receipt of final medical records.

“In response to Mrs. Holt’s requests for information, Chief Akagi repeatedly told the press that he was refusing to turn over police files on Sarah McAdams because he was awaiting toxicology and autopsy results, even though her death certificate did not indicate that either had been performed,” Baughn wrote.

According to Baughn, it was later determined police never ordered a toxicology report or an autopsy.

“Either Chief Akagi was grossly misinformed by his staff or he was intentionally untruthful,” Baughn wrote.

Tennessee Watchdog has made numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact City Manager Mark Watson, Mayor Tom Beehan and Police Chief James Akagi via office phone, cell phone, email and texting.

Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi

Tennessee Watchdog reached Akagi on his cell phone Thursday, but he said he was in a meeting and hung up.

Holt said city officials have a nasty attitude toward anyone who simply tries to ask a question.

“The city manager and the police there act like I’m pestering them over a suspicious car parked in front of my house,” Holt said.

“This is serious. There’s a dead person involved. They have a nonchalant attitude as if they are saying ‘You are just being a pest, and you just need to go away.’ That’s their attitude.”

McAdams and Alex Heitman were two very different people, but there are common threads in how Oak Ridge Police have treated their deaths, Holt said.

As previously reported, Heitman died 70 miles away in Cocke County of a reported suicide, but he was an Oak Ridge resident and had complained to Oak Ridge Police about a check forgery problem within the local school district three months before.

Heitman’s parents doubt he killed himself.

“The common thread with this and the Heitman case is just the police indifference. We’ve both gotten the same response. You would think the police department would want to let parents know what happened to their child and to not stonewall,” Holt said.

“Alex Heitman was a well-educated, highly accomplished young man who was shot to death. Sarah was a marginal person who had difficulties. They were just very different. But the common thread we have is we are both grieving parents who lost children in another state and we really don’t know the details of what happened, and the authorities are not being helpful.”

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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