Trooper Loses Argument About What Constitutes Deployment Of ‘Stop Sticks’

Archie Story was a Tennessee highway trooper. In 2006, Story heard over his radio that the Gibson County Sheriff’s Department was involved in the pursuit of a vehicle. Story went to the general area to be able to assist.

Story stopped at a location ahead of the pursuit and retrieved his “stop sticks,” a tire deflation device, from his trunk. He threw out the sticks, but they became tangled and did not extend into the lane in which the pursuit was occurring. The pursuit ultimately ended in a crash; however, neither the fleeing vehicle nor a Gibson County Sheriff’s Department vehicle traveled over the stop sticks.

That night, Story told his lieutenant that he had not, in fact, “deployed” the stop sticks. Following an investigation, the Department terminated Story, both for deploying the stop sticks without prior supervisory approval and for being untruthful about what he had done.

In upholding Story’s termination, the Tennessee Court of Appeals described the real argument as being over what the word “deployment” meant. It also found that Story had the losing side of the argument: “The order authorizes the use of stop sticks only as a last resort, it highlights the importance of communication between the pursuing unit and the deploying officer, and it details several prerequisites to the use of stop sticks in an attempt to minimize the risk of personal injury and property damage. Like the chancery court, we find ridiculous Story’s contention that an ineffective placement does not require prior approval, as a partial extension equally evokes the safety concerns that the General Order is designed to address.”

The Court also found that Story had been untruthful with his lieutenant about his deployment of the stop sticks: “We note that Story’s argument that he did not technically deploy the stop sticks did not surface until his supervisors learned through Trooper Rollins that some deployment had occurred, and we find his argument, at best, disingenuous. However, assuming Story honestly believed he had not deployed his stop sticks, he was, nonetheless, less than forthcoming with the full details of the incident. From the evidence, we find that the administrative law judge hearing Story’s appeal could reasonably conclude that ‘what Trooper Story reports, whether to dispatchers, in reports, or to his superiors, depends upon its effect on him; truth gives way to convenience, consistently.’ We find no error in the ALJ’s findings regarding Trooper Story’s untruthfulness.”

Story v. Civil Service Com’n, 2011 WL 2623904 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011).