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Veteran KPD sgt. retires, multi-pronged internal investigation underway over officer conduct

Lt. Travis Brasfield raised multiple questions for department review about how administrators handled allegations of misconduct.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A veteran Knoxville Police Department sergeant abruptly retired this month after cellphone video showed him making vulgar comments about women and forced or rough oral sex while drawing on the board during roll call.

10News has obtained a copy of the video showing Sgt. Bobby Maxwell, recorded earlier this year during a meeting of KPD's D Squad.

Maxwell's conduct is part of a multi-pronged internal affairs review raised by KPD Lt. Travis Brasfield, who in a formal complaint alleges administrators tried to "conceal" and head off a deeper review of the Maxwell incident.

RELATED: 'A slap in the face': Knoxville mayor, police chief respond to vulgar video that led to KPD internal investigations

RELATED: Knoxville City Council members respond to video showing vulgar comments at KPD roll call

Additional issues raised in the complaint by Brasfield include how superiors responded to a complaint by a Knox County deputy that a relatively new KPD officer was having an affair with his wife, records show.

Brasfield also alleges his captain, Tony Willis, may have failed to disclose key information in a past criminal investigation that could have benefited a defendant who ended up being convicted, records show.

Maxwell, a 25-year KPD veteran and US Marine veteran who was involved in a high-profile officer-involved shooting in 1997, retired effective July 1, according to KPD spokesman Scott Erland.

Brasfield seeks among other things the immediate removal of Capt. Willis and KPD Deputy Chief Kenny Miller from their command positions.

Maxwell could not be reached for comment. Brasfield, a licensed attorney in the state, declined comment through attorney John Valliant.

When approached this week, Erland issued this statement: "There is an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation regarding the allegations, and we are not going to comment further on the matter until the conclusion of the investigation. As a note, Sgt. Maxwell is no longer employed by the Knoxville Police Department."

According to the city of Knoxville's Law Department, internal affairs reviews are underway as a result of Brasfield's complaint, and they will become public when they are complete. 10News has requested the documents.

In reporting on this story, 10News obtained Brasfield's internal affairs allegations and the video. It has also reviewed the civil service files for Maxwell, Brasfield and Willis.

You can watch the raw, unedited video below, as it was received by WBIR. It does contain offensive language.

Maxwell and the video

Maxwell had a reputation in the department for being hard-charging, loyal to his officers, outspoken, blunt, sometimes profane and hard-working, documents show.

During a D Squad meeting earlier this year, someone filmed him at a white board drawing a stick figure depicting a woman while talking with officers in the squad. He appears to be offering a mock tutorial about encountering women and getting oral sex.

In the video as he stands at the board, he can be heard saying, "What you've...what you've done is you put your penis in her piehole."

During the demonstration, during which a few laughs can be heard, he refers to a "choke job" and a "swallower or a swallower and a spitter." He referred to another derogatory term that addresses ejaculation.

Credit: WBIR
Another passage from the recorded remarks of Sgt. Bobby Maxwell during a KPD meeting earlier this year.

Brasfield, working as a newly installed leader for the D Squad, which works afternoons and evenings, alleges that on June 19 Willis spoke to him about Maxwell's alleged conduct.

He "told me not to correct Sergeant Maxwell, not issue any counseling form or take any other action, but that I should mention it in passing or casually mention it to him. He reiterated that I should not document anything and just mention it to him," his recollection of the conversation states.

The following day, June 20, Brasfield alleges that Willis and Deputy Chief Kenny Miller showed him an anonymous letter sent to Chief Eve Thomas complaining about Maxwell's statements during roll call.

10News has requested a copy of the purported letter. Law Director Charles Swanson say it's part of the formal investigation.

"The letter alleged that during roll calls Sergeant Maxwell had said sexually explicit and derogatory things about women and homosexuals...among other things," a supplemental summary from Brasfield states. It continues: "Captain Willis picked the letter up off the table, put it in a file, and said, 'This is my fault, not yours.' "

Willis, according to Brasfield, observed that he hadn't seen anyone videotaping during roll call.

"Chief Miller said that there is probably not a video and we would have to just wait and see. Captain Willis told Sergeant Maxwell that he was the best sergeant bar none and that D Squad was the best squad in the district," Brasfield's summary states.

Miller, according to Brasfield, told Maxwell, Willis and Brasfield that "this was not a problem and it would go no further."

Brasfield, however, alleges he'd raised concerns about Maxwell's conduct before.

When Maxwell stepped out of the June 20 meeting that included Miller, Brasfield alleges that he reminded Willis about Maxwell.

Credit: KPD Twitter
A KPD tweet from several years ago showing Sgt. Maxwell.

"...and he told me, 'it was fine because it was just Bob being Bob, and that he told me not to take any corrective action. Captain Willis then denied that I had informed him and denied he told me it was fine. I told him he was a liar. Captain Willis turned his swivel chair toward me, clinched his fists, started to stand and said, 'If you call me a liar one more time we are going to have a problem.' Chief Miller yelled to prevent a physical fight and I left the room shortly thereafter."

Brasfield then filed his formal complaint, which alleges violations by administrators of the department code of conduct, general orders, city rules and city ordinances.

Other investigations

In addition to the Maxwell roll call incident, Brasfield alleges misconduct and improper handling of a complaint by a Knox County deputy about a KPD officer having an affair with his wife.

10News is not identifying the officer. The matter also is part of an Internal Affairs investigation, according to the city Law Department.

On June 18, according to Brasfield, Willis summoned him for a meeting where he encountered the KPD officer and Maxwell.

"In the conference room, Captain Willis directed Sergeant Maxwell to interrogate (the officer) about the complaint received in Teleserve that (the officer) was having sex with a Sheriff's deputy's wife," the supplement by Brasfield to the Internal Affairs complaint states.

KPD Headquarters

The officer admitted he'd been seeing the woman. The officer became "upset," according to records.

When the meeting was over, "I confirmed with Captain Willis that it was his instruction that nothing discussed was allowed to leave the room, and he confirmed that direction," the Brasfield supplement states.

At one point Willis observed, "Estrogen destroys the logic center of the brain. All reason is abolished. It is gone. This is science, not speculation," according to Brasfield's supplement.

The next morning, Brasfield alleges he got a text from Willis: "I reconsidered our conversation with (the officer)...on second thought I am going to have to mention it to Chief Miller. Please let him know that. I don't want to give the appearance of going back on my word. It will still be ok but I do have to tell him since (Internal Affairs) knows about it."

Brasfield alleges Willis mishandled the conversation. According to the lieutenant, Willis failed to give the officer a proper legal warning, called a Garrity warning, that allows employers to proceed with questioning about a possible investigation.

Willis, Brasfield alleges in his complaint, "directed a coercive interrogation" of the officer to investigate the deputy's complaint. The deputy's complaint should have gone straight to Internal Affairs, according to Brasfield.

Brasfield also seeks a review of whether Willis improperly withheld information that could have helped a defendant in a federal law enforcement case.

According to Brasfield, Willis in the June 20 meeting in Miller's conference room at police headquarters said that he'd once been subpoenaed but not called to the witness stand by an "incompetent" defense attorney.

It's not stated when this alleged incident occurred.

According to Brasfield's formal complaint, "Captain Willis said that his testimony would have exonerated the defendant. Sergeant Maxwell asked Captain Willis if he was talking about exculpatory evidence. Captain Willis responded, 'Yeah, the guy got sent up and I felt bad.' "

Accusation against patrol officer

According to the city Law Department, Internal Affairs also is investigating possible improper conduct by an officer in confronting a young woman. 10News is not identifying the accused officer.

Brasfield, in his supplemental statement to his complaint filed with Internal Affairs, states that he'd learned in June that a young woman had accused the officer of "trading oral sex in exchange for not arresting her for marijuana he found on her."

10News has requested documents associated with the allegation.

According to Brasfield's supplement to the complaint, the allegation against the officer came up during a meeting with Willis in Miller's office June 20. Miller told the men he'd been informed "the female's complaint against (the officer) was false and that complaint was done."

Credit: KPD
Lt. Travis Brasfield of KPD shown on right at a 2015 promotion event.

Veteran officers

10News reviewed the civil service records for Maxwell, Brasfield and Willis. Each have more than 20 years with the department.

Maxwell, 57, went into law enforcement in the late 1980s after leaving the Marine Corps. He worked as a police officer in Cleveland, Tenn., and Dunlap, Tenn., before joining on with KPD, records show.

Maxwell received a mix of reprimands and commendations during his time in office. He once was reprimanded for mistreatment of a prisoner and for failing to stop a pursuit when ordered, records show.

He also was the subject at one point of an internal review over possible misuse of Cap-Stun, which was used to control defendants.

Credit: City of Knoxville
KPD's Travis Brasfield shown in 2015 during a concert performance on Market Square.

"Officer Maxwell is a very intense person," an evaluator once noted.

In March 2014, he shot and killed an armed man on Tazewell Pike in North Knoxville, records show. Maxwell was exonerated in the killing of Clifford Crowe, city records show.

In June 1997, Maxwell shot and killed James Woodfin in the College Homes housing development, now torn down, while trying to serve a warrant. Woodfin was in his bathroom armed with a shotgun. It was one of several deaths of black men involving KPD that caused controversy in the community.

Police said then that Woodfin had fired first and that Maxwell returned fire. Officers involved, including Maxwell, were exonerated.

Maxwell also won praise while on the bomb squad and for being commander of the KPD Honor Guard.

He was promoted to sergeant in 2011.

Brasfield, 42, started with KPD in 1996 as a cadet. He worked later as a patrolman, an investigator, a criminal investigations sergeant and later lieutenant, to which he was promoted in 2015, records state.

He secured a law degree from the Nashville School of Law, according to records.

As a cop, he's been praised for his ability to work with fellow officers as well as the public, his ability to problem-solve and his fair and impartial manner, records show.

Credit: KPD Twitter
Sgt. Bobby Maxwell was part of the KPD Honor Guard, for which he won praise.

"I have always aspired to be a police officer," he wrote on his original application.

He's been commended for helping to catch a suspected robber. He's also been reprimanded for failure in 1999 to properly document confiscation of a weapon, for once ordering in 2000 the tow of five vehicles from a Clinton Highway address, for failing to come to work one day in 2002 and for failing in 2005 to report for a traffic assignment.

Willis, 50, worked about five years at the Helen Ross McNabb Center in the early 1990s strategizing patient care with case managers and medical professionals after graduating from Carson-Newman University with a degree in sociology.

Credit: WBIR
KPD Capt. Tony Willis in a recent interview with WBIR.

Supervisors praised him early on as a clear leader who could advance in the department. He became a sergeant about 2003, a lieutenant about seven years later and was promoted to captain in 2018 under Chief Eve Thomas's watch, records show.

"I believe him to be one of our top supervisors," one superior once wrote.