Chief homicide prosecutor resigns from Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office after criticizing TBI
Chief Homicide Prosecutor Michael Dowd has been asked to resign from the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office following a Friday hearing in which he expressed exasperation and criticized the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for how long ballistics reports take.
Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp said in a statement that Dowd was asked to resign Sunday.
“Multiple factors were considered when making this decision, and the resignation cannot be attributed to one single incident,” her statement said. “This will in no way affect the prosecution of pending homicides in Hamilton County or our focus on violent crime. The role of chief homicide prosecutor is extremely important in the District Attorney’s Office, and an announcement as to who will next fill this role will be made in the near future.”
On Sunday, Dowd submitted a resignation letter stepping down from his duties, effective immediately, he said.
In a transcript of the pre-trial conference hearing for Donyell Dewayne Holland, 41, who was indicted in March 2021 in the 2020 death of Randall Leslie, Dowd said while he did not want to delay Holland’s trial, he had yet to receive the ballistics report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
“I can tell the court that I am as exasperated as anyone regarding the delays that TBI seems to have with ballistics,” Dowd said, according to the transcript.
Dowd, who took over the case in October, said agents with the TBI told him the report would be done by mid-May but gave no specific date, according to the transcript.
“With respect to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ballistics division, I have no authority, and counsel in this room knows that ballistics moves very, very slowly,” Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Amanda Dunn said, according to the transcript.
Dowd requested another pre-trial hearing be held either May 15 or 16, in hopes to have the report by then.
“Mr. Holland, I am very hopeful that those TBI lab results are forthcoming because I do believe you’re entitled to have them absolutely before we proceed,” Dunn said, according to the transcript.
Holland’s attorney, Ryan Wheeler, said not having the ballistics report would make things difficult for the May 23 trial.
“The last thing we would want to do is continue the case again because Mr. Holland has been in custody for over two years,” Wheeler said, according to the transcript. “But if there’s a last-minute, you know, drop of the information results from the ballistics, then that would leave our side scrambling, you know, for — could potentially leave our side scrambling for an expert.”
Dowd, who said he understood Wheeler’s concern for what the delayed report meant for both the defense and the prosecution, added that he spoke to the TBI the day before the hearing in which his voice became raised.
“I can tell you that yesterday — and I’ll try to quote as best as possible — I shut my door when I had the discussion with TBI because my voice was getting raised,” Dowd said. “And I believe at one point in the discussion I actually told the TBI person, ‘I’ve done ballistics myself. If you want me to come down and get the damn gun and do the ballistics myself, I’m going to do that.’ At that point in time the person on the other end said I didn’t need to raise my voice to them. And I said, ‘If you were doing your damn job, I wouldn’t have to.'”
Dowd previously worked as a prosecutor at the District Attorney’s Office in San Bernardino, California, for 22 years and came to Hamilton County in September after Wamp was elected.
He said that in California, if such a delay had happened, “the head of the lab would have been in that chair right over there (the witness stand) answering questions from the court …”
“This is a case that is several years old. These items have been with TBI for well over — well, going on two years now, and this should have been done long ago,” Dowd said. “And this is getting to be borderline a joke. But with that being said, I think we can’t really do anything until we’re here on the 15th to see where we’re at.”
To which Dunn agreed.
Dowd told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that Wamp asked him to resign over the weekend.
“She has the absolute right to decide who she wants to speak for her,” Dowd said Monday by phone. “And she has that absolute right. And she has decided that, or she did decide, that she no longer wanted me to do that. And that is well within her rights.”
Dowd also said Friday was the first time he’d ever criticized another law enforcement agency in his almost 29-year career.
“It’s unusual for one part of law enforcement to publicly criticize another part of law enforcement. That’s usually not the way it’s done,” Dowd said. “And quite frankly, that’s the first time I’ve ever done it. Which I think kind of just shows just how frustrated everybody was at the situation.”
Dowd said once he was assigned the case — the week after he started working at the District Attorney’s Office — he issued a letter to the TBI to expedite the ballistics report. Seven months later, it still hadn’t been completed. In hindsight, he said, he would not have made the comments.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 29 years,” Dowd said. “I probably made a mistake. Well, I won’t say probably. I made a mistake, but the frustrations are still there. Whether we say it out loud or not, the frustration is still there.”
“I’m just not used to dealing with labs like that. Usually, they’re a lot better about it, but I understand the obstacles that TBI faces. I mean, they’re a statewide lab, they have to do everything for the entire state,” Dowd said. “It gets frustrating, especially when, you know, you’ve seen in the past that cases have had to be dismissed as a result of lab work, when you see that certain cases can’t even be filed because the statute of limitations has run because of a lack of lab, or when you see that people get released. Because trials need to be continued as a result of not having lab work. When you see that defendants have to stay in jail for years awaiting trial, because lab work is not getting done, it gets frustrating.”
Dowd said he’s also sorry that his statements at the Holland hearing cast a shadow of the work he’d accomplished with the District Attorney’s Office for the past seven months, focusing on streamlining and efficiency and trying to move murder cases along instead of having them delayed.
(READ MORE: Hamilton County chief homicide prosecutor aims to boost efficiency, bring swifter justice)
“I think I did some tremendous work for that office,” he said. “I’m just sorry that all of that ends. And I’m sorry that this one episode seems to have taken complete precedence over all of the previous seven months of great work.”
Contact La Shawn Pagán at [email protected] or 423-757-6476.
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