A Bristol, Tennessee police officer is out of a job after speaking his mind on camera about a controversial department policy and Sen. Jon Lundberg (R), District 4, told us he shoulders some of the burden.
“I’m not responsible, but I’m involved and I feel badly,” Lundberg said. “I feel really badly.”
Sen. Lundberg says he regrets calling the police chief after Phil Kiersnowski pulled over his daughter last month. The officer ticketed Sam Lundberg for a window tint violation, but during the traffic stop criticized the police department’s window tinting enforcement and urged Lundberg to get her father involved.
“I am going to give you a citation, because that’s only because the admin’s on our a**,” Kiersnowski said while trying to mute his microphone during the traffic stop. “One phone call from your dad will probably save us a lot of heartache.”
As the stop continued, Kiersnowski briefly continued to try and mute his microphone.
“We all said if we find you driving we’re going to write you a ticket,” he said. “We all know your window tint is too dark.”
“You all targeting me?” Lundberg asked.
“No,” the officer responded before one more time urging her to call her father.
“One call from your dad would probably make all of this go away and probably save all of us a lot of heartache,” he said.
Sen. Lundberg said the officer didn’t realize it at the time, but he was actually listening to the traffic stop on speakerphone. However, he says he could not hear anything Kiersnowski said while he was whispering. Still, he called Chief Blaine Wade.
“I regret, frankly, picking up the phone and calling the chief,” he said.
He said he didn’t call Wade to try and get his daughter out of the ticket.
“Absolutely not,” Sen. Lundberg said. “No way”
Instead, he said he was making light of the fact that not only his daughter received a ticket that day, but so did his wife for speeding.
“At the time, I thought it was actually kind of funny,” he said. “Since I have a personal relationship with the chief I called him and I was truly laughing and said, ‘Hey chief, I’m on my way back from Nashville, I’m about an hour away, if you’re targeting my entire family, I’ll be there,’” he recalled. “He said, ‘We’re not targeting your family.’”
Sen. Lundberg said those comments came with an invitation to visit the police department the next day, review the body camera footage and measure the senator’s window tint.
“He was at his desk and literally he said, ‘There’s the officer’s badge on my desk, he has been relieved of duty and he’ll be fired within 24 hours,’” Sen. Lundberg recalled. “My reaction is, ‘Fired for what?’”
A department memo cited two major issues for the termination.
“After reviewing the video, it is apparent that Officer Kiersnowski attempted to disable his audio which could be evidence and is also part of the official records of the police department,” the chief said in the Nov. 30 memo. “Officer Kiersnowski was insubordinate with his attempt to persuade someone to take action to change police department policy that he does not agree with.”
While Sen. Lundberg agrees the officer should’ve acted better, he can’t believe the officer lost his job as a result.
“My wife has been in tears over this,” he said. “My daughter has been in tears. She thinks she’s at fault for this. Should he have said, ‘Hey, one call and this could go away?’ No, he shouldn’t have. Should he have covered up his microphone? No, clearly, but all of those are I think teachable moments.”
Sen. Lundberg’s since even hired Kiersnowski an attorney in an effort to try and help the officer get his job back.
“I’m looking for justice,” he said. “Was his…termination justice for him? I don’t think so and somebody needs to stand up for him.”
Kiersnowski admits he should’ve handled the stop differently.
“I never should’ve covered the mic,” he said. “I regret that decision, but I stand by the comments I made. The way I went about it was wrong, yes.”
That said, he told us he never thought he’d lose his job because of his actions and words.
“I never expected to be terminated over it,” he said. “I think (the chief) was embarrassed in front of Sen. Lundberg and I was punished for it.”
Wade declined to talk on-camera about this situation.
“As a matter of City Policy, we do not comment on personnel issues,” the chief said.
Kiersnowski, with the support of Sen. Lundberg’s hired attorney, said he appealed his termination at a hearing last week, but the city ultimately upheld the decision.
Despite the situation, Sen. Lundberg said he’s proud of the officer for writing his daughter a ticket even though he didn’t agree with the department’s policy.
“He was doing his job and he didn’t want to do that job clearly and he still did it,” Sen. Lundberg said. “That’s why he deserves to be back.”
The senator said his daughter’s since removed the tint from her car ahead of her court date, which he expects will result in the judge dismissing the ticket altogether.