C.S.I. Oak Mountain State Park helps train local agencies

Published 2:02 pm Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Knoxville, Tenn. man murders his wife and another man, dismembers them, flees to Alabama, where he shoots and kills another man at Oak Mountain State Park, before finally being apprehended.

That was the scenario Wednesday as several local law enforcement agencies, including the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, the Pelham Police Department, the Alabaster Police Department and the Hoover Police Department, gathered at the park for a mock crime-scene exercise.

Other agencies that participated in the exercise included the FBI, the Birmingham Police Department, the Bessemer Police Department and the Tuscaloosa Police Department.

Members of each agency spent the day going through five scenes of the mock exercise.

Following the fictional Knoxville scenario, the case picked up in the park, where a car was found burning. From there, investigators went to an abandoned campsite, where the suspect’s belongings were found.

The next scene took investigators to a cabin, where human remains were found.

From there, investigators went to another scene, where a male was found dead.

The fifth scene took investigators to an area where gunshots were heard and shell casings and blood were found.

The final scene was the apprehension of the suspect.

“It’s a great opportunity to take (each officer’s) expertise and have them work together,” said Pat Maley, FBI special agent in charge. “Their best training is learning from each other.”

Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry said the program is a great asset to his department in that it promotes agencies, from federal to local, working together.

“You find out what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are,” Curry said. “But the winner truly is the citizens. That’s our main goal.”

Pelham Police Chief Tommy Thomas said that while the city is not a high crime area, bad things have happened in Pelham before and they will happen again.

And despite the dreary weather Wednesday, Thomas said, the exercise is vitally important in promoting good investigative work and cooperation.

“We can’t be fair-weather police officers and fair-weather crime scene investigators,” Thomas said.

In fact, Thomas said the weather actually benefited the officers Wednesday in that it truly made the exercise a real world case that was not 100 percent controlled.

“This is the best training these guys can get. They’re not in a classroom and they are getting hands-on training and not just listening to old war stories,” Thomas said. “We have to teach people to recognize evidence and not just pick up every pine cone.”

Shelby County Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick compared the exercise to a track meet, in which each runner of each leg must hold up his end in order for the team to win the race.

“It’s all about teamwork and today’s all about handling,” Bostick said. “And hopefully, we’ll finish the race in first place.”