KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — A Knoxville police officer faces suspension after bringing home blood evidence from an accident investigation, a report from the Knoxville Police Department said. Officer Travis Shuler reportedly took the blood home, briefly lost it, and then did not accurately note when it was stored.
The accident involved happened on May 27, 2021. Documents indicated that Officer Shuler responded to the accident and later, on May 28, served a subpoena at the University Medical Center, obtaining vials of blood from the accident victim responsible.
According to KPD procedure, Officer Shuler should have immediately turned the blood samples into KPD evidence storage, but the report instead stated that Shuler took the samples home, storing them in his personal refrigerator. When asked why he didn’t return the samples immediately, Shuler told Internal Affairs Detective Sgt. Rachel Britt that he was concerned about traffic. He also said his wife and daughter were out of town for the weekend so no one would come into contact with the blood.
Shuler said in interviews that he intended to return the samples the next day, May 29, but forgot the samples in the refrigerator. Shuler then told Sgt. Britt that he was unable to find the samples on June 1, his next day at work, and instead asked his wife, who had returned early from her trip, to look for them while he went at work.
According to an interview with Shuler’s wife, who was not named in the report, Shuler went crazy when he couldn’t find the samples. “I guess he realizes he probably needs to take that stuff,” she said. “Uh, he comes back into the house in a panic. He can’t find it. Shuler’s wife told Sgt. Britt that her husband searched her personal truck and trash but couldn’t find the blood, so he asked her to look for them and got to work. Shuler’s wife then found her under a container of food in the refrigerator, she later said.
After finding the evidence and attempting to call Officer Shuler, who was unable to respond, Shuler’s wife allegedly decided to take the blood directly to KPD headquarters. While at KPD headquarters, Shuler’s wife spoke to several staff members about turning over the evidence, but none were able to remove it from her, due to KPD policy, according to the report. Shuler’s wife was eventually able to get in touch with Officer Shuler, who then met her at a Planet Fitness parking lot to make the change.
“I finally met her in the Planet Fitness parking lot at Campbell Station and Kingston Pike and she delivered the blood to me from her car to mine,” Agent Shuler said in an interview. “Then I came to headquarters and confiscated the blood.”
Officer Shuler also allegedly entered the blood into evidence incorrectly. He reportedly dated the evidence itself as received on June 1, but wrote on May 27, a day before he even had the evidence, on the KPD refrigeration log. Shuler told investigators he wrote May 27 because that was the day of the crash and, he assumed, the day the blood was drawn.
Assistant District Attorney Gregory Eshbaugh raised some concerns about Officer Shuler’s behavior. In a letter to Sgt. Britt, Eshbaugh said storing blood for an extended period can affect drug test results. Blood from the May 27 crash was tested for clonazolam, a drug similar to Xanax, Eshbaugh said, and tested negative, but that could be due to the time spent in Shuler’s care.
“It is unclear at this time whether Officer Shuler’s delay in placing the blood samples in the evidence allowed the suspected clonazolam to decompose in the vacutainers to levels below detection limits,” said Eshbaugh. He also said that since the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation hadn’t done studies on how the drug breaks down, it’s impossible to say how the delay might have affected testing. Eshbaugh raised other concerns, however.
“I am of the view that the real damage done is not in the current case, but rather in any other active case where Officer Shuler manipulated evidence,” Eshbaugh said. “In these circumstances, my office has a responsibility to disclose to the defense Officer Shuler’s gross mishandling of evidence in this case in all other cases in which Officer Shuler is involved, which could jeopardize these prosecutions.” In short, Shuler’s mishandling of evidence from this case could be used as a defense for someone sued in a case involving Shuler in the future.
Officer Shuler was also reprimanded for not taking his body camera to the scene of the May 27 crash. He told investigators in an interview that his battery was low and he had permission from a superior, identified as Sgt. Brian Bumpus, to work the crash without him. According to body camera documentation included in the investigation report, Shuler’s device was at 44% at the time of the crash. sergeant. Britt also said Sgt. Bumpus said he never had a conversation with Shuler about his lack of a body camera.
Officer Shuler was suspended for two days following the investigation, according to the report. He has since returned to duty, but was reassigned from the Engine and Crash Reconstruction Detail unit and is now serving on patrol, according to KPD officer Scott Erland.
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