Board releases review of police response to 2019 complaint Nashville explosion suspect was ‘building bombs’

Nashville Bombing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro police “appropriately” handled the response to a 2019 complaint that Anthony Warner was “building bombs” in an RV outside his Antioch home, but “multiple deficiencies” were discovered with the follow-up investigation, according to a board tasked with reviewing the incident.

Federal investigators said Warner detonated a bomb inside of an RV parked near Second Avenue North and Commerce Street in downtown Nashville on Christmas morning last year, killing himself and causing extensive property damage.

Days later, a Metro police report revealed that officers had responded more than one year earlier, on Aug. 21, 2019, to a location on Syfert Lane, where Warner’s girlfriend at the time explained he was “building bombs in the RV trailer at his residence” on Bakertown Road.

While on the scene along Syfert Lane, the document states officers spoke with Raymond Throckmorton, who described himself as an attorney for Warner and his girlfriend, and revealed Warner “frequently talks about the military and bomb making.” Throckmorton further stated he believed Warner “knows what he is doing and is capable of making a bomb,” according to the police report.

From there, officers responded to Warner’s home on Bakertown Road, where they knocked on the door, but said no one answered. The report states there was an RV trailer in the backyard of the home, “but the yard was fenced off and police could not see inside the RV.”

In the report, police noted “the location has several security cameras and wires attached to [an] alarm sign on the front door. Police said they attempted “several times,” but “could not get [Warner] to open the door and police did not have contact with him.”

Anthony Quinn Warner Antioch home
Anthony Warner (Courtesy: Metro Nashville Police Department)

Metro police Chief John Drake announced on Jan. 7 of this year, nearly two weeks after the Christmas Day bombing, the creation of an After Action Review Board, made up of five members, including two within the department. The board was tasked with looking at what occurred, what mistakes were made in the handling of information and whether changes to policy or procedures were needed.

The board’s report, released Wednesday morning, concluded “there is no way to know for sure if the suicide bombing on Dec. 25, 2020 could have been prevented” and that “law enforcement followed protocols and procedures regarding the [Aug. 21, 2019] incident, however deficiencies were identified in how the follow up investigation was conducted.”

“One must not assume that because certain good practices were not followed or certain actions were not taken, the outcome would have necessarily been different had those proper steps been taken,” the board wrote in its report. “All we can say for sure is that following the best practices and being diligent creates the best opportunity for a good result the next time.”

The board determined the police response to the incident was “handled appropriately” and “all response policies and procedures were followed successfully.”

“1. Patrol officers on the scene acted appropriately to a 911 call that a potentially suicidal person had access to weapons . They contacted their supervisors, tried to assist Ms. Perry, took into consideration her condition, removed the weapons from the area to ensure she could not harm herself or others. They spoke at length with Ms. Perry before convincing her to be transported for medical assistance. The officers on the scene appropriately documented the facts of their interaction with her.

2. The officers and supervisors at the scene were appropriately concerned about the information given by Ms. Perry that Mr. Warner might be building a bomb. Several officers and supervisors immediately went to Warner’s home to investigate . Upon their arrival at the location, Mr. Warner did not appear to be at the residence. The shades were drawn, and the doors and security fence locked. Officers observed a vehicle in the side yard matching the description of the RV that Ms. Perry described. Officers knocked on the door and side gate of Mr. Warner’s residence but did not get an answer. Officers stated they also knocked on the adjoined apartment but did not get a response. While they noticed extensive security cameras, there appeared to be nothing to indicate criminal activity. All of the activity at Mr. Warner’s home was well-documented by the appropriate personnel.

3. All of the officers and supervisory personnel were of the belief that they had insufficient probable cause to enter the property or seek a search warrant. The information about their concern that the suspect might be building a bomb was relayed to the appropriate unit, the Hazardous Device Unit, also known as the Bomb Squad. The HOU officer sent an inquiry to the FBI on August 22, 2019, to determine if Mr. Anthony Warner had a prior history or connection to explosives, and the agent responded that there were no records showing that Mr. Warner was in their database. The request to check military records was mentioned and that it would take several days to get that information back. On August 28, 2019 the FBI agent sent notification that the Department of Defense checks were all negative.”

After Action Review Board Report (May 2021)

The board went on to determine there was “room for improvement in the reporting process,” recommending that “each responder prepare their own individual supplement when responding to mental health calls, high priority calls or when directed by a Sergeant, to ensure more accuracy of reporting in the future,” rather than just one report.

In addition, the board identified deficiencies in the follow up investigation and documentation of the Aug. 21, 2019 response, stating “there was insufficient follow up with [Warner’s girlfriend] after she received medical assistance, to discuss further her allegation about Anthony Warner making a bomb.”

Emergency personnel work at the scene of an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard early Christmas morning. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

In an interview, the report explains Officer Pollard, the Hazardous Device Unit detective on the case, stated that he attempted to contact Warner’s girlfriend several times in the weeks after the incident but was unable to reach her; however, there is no record of Officer Pollard’s attempts to contact her.

During the interview, Officer Pollard also explained that he went by Warner’s house several times after the incident and did not have contact with him, but there is no record of Officer Pollard’s attempts to contact Warner. No attempts were ever made to contact Warner’s employer, family members or his neighbor, according to Officer Pollard.

More than one year later, at the time of the bombing, the Board determined the case involving Warner had not been closed, but was not active, as Officer Pollard stated cases like that often lay dormant unless another lead or complaint comes in.

The board has recommended that “all bomb-related incidents be investigated by the precinct detectives in conjunction with the Hazardous Device Unit technicians to ensure that information doesn’t fall through the cracks.” The latest investigative techniques and equipment can be “effectively utilized with the latest explosive device render safe techniques and equipment.”

The Hazardous Device Unit already conducts Molotov cocktail investigations jointly with the Nashville Fire Department, when the devices burn structures, the report states.

(Courtesy: Austin Burdick)

The board also recommended that the position of a Joint Terrorist Task Force Officer in the Special Investigations Division be reinstated to serve as a liaison and conduit between the Emergency Contingency Section and the Special Investigations Division, specifically in the counterterrorism intelligence subcomponent of the Special Investigations Division.

A deficiency in communication between the Hazardous Device Unit and the Special Investigations Division charged with gathering intelligence was exposed, according to the board. They said within the Special Investigations Division, there should be a differentiation between the two principal components of intelligence, those dealing with criminal and counterterrorism intelligence to ensure adequate communication vetting and dissemination of both specific types of intelligence.

Additionally, the board recommended that executive staff be “updated immediately” about any significant investigations surrounding viable threats or counterterrorism, and that leadership receive quarterly briefings from the Emergency Contingency Section as it relates to case status.

It was not clear if intelligence regarding the status of the investigation into Warner was flagged and passed along to Metro police leadership during COMPSTAT or at staff meetings.

Cases that have “questionable or peculiar status” should be discussed in Metro police staff meetings to ensure that questions are addressed and assistance is obtained, the board determined.

The committee further recommended the following:

  1. Require that all efforts to follow-up with any individual regarding an HDU investigation be documented, even if the efforts do not result in progress or contact. Such actions should include, but are not limited to, attempts to call, attempts to contact, number of times knocked on a suspect’s door, computer checks, database checks, etc.—RECOMMENDATION BEING IMPLEMENTED THROUGH HDU COMPONENT POLICY
  2. Conduct random quarterly audits of Hazardous Devices Unit case files to ensure that the best investigative practices are being used and all documentation is being properly completed—RECOMMENDATION IMPLEMENTED
  3. Establish a monthly explosive summit attended by MNPD Hazardous Devices Unit technicians, MNPD Specialized Investigations Division representatives, FBI representatives, ATF representatives, and Tennessee Department of Homeland Security representatives. During the summit, representatives discuss investigations and what casework should take place to further those investigations—RECOMMENDATION IMPLEMENTED; FBI, ATF & TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY AGREE TO THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MONTHLY SUMMIT.
  4. Following each Explosive Summit meeting, the captain of the Special Operations Division or his/her designee will distribute an email to the precinct commander whose geographical area is affected by an investigation in order to keep that commander updated on situations that could impact precinct-based officers/detectives—RECOMMENDATION TO BE IMPLEMENTED
  5. Initiate a four-part confirmative closure prior to officially marking a case inactive, so as to ensure the original information has not changed.

a. A reasonable attempt shall be made to follow-up with the reporting person, complainant, or those who have information related to the allegation/incident;

b. Federal database checks shall be conducted through the FBI, ATF, DEA, DHS and other applicable agencies;

c. State and local database checks shall be conducted through the MNPD, State of Tennessee, Joint Terrorism Task Force, and other applicable components;

d. The Specialized Investigations Division shall be contacted for a final database and online check, and if an investigation is halted due to lack of probable cause or other legal reason, the MNPD’s Case Preparation component, legal advisor, and/or the District Attorney’s Office should be contacted to discuss the full scope of options.—RECOMMENDATION TO BE IMPLEMENTED

  1. Remind all MNPD officers, through roll call training, of the legal resources available to assist them in determining whether sufficient probable cause exists to seek a search warrant. The roll call training should emphasize that the greater the potential danger to the community and its citizens, the more likely it should be to seek legal consultation.—RECOMMENDATION ACCEPTED; DEVELOPMENT IN PROGRESS
  2. Submit a State of Tennessee “Suspicious Activity Report” (SAR) on all Hazardous Devices Unit calls where the totality of the circumstances would lead an investigator to reasonably believe that more investigative efforts would be needed, or if the HDU technician believes the information could assist with other investigative efforts. The SAR report is designed to distribute information regarding suspicious activity throughout an established distribution network that includes the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Tennessee Fusion Center, and other state & federal partners. All acquired information is then analyzed and compared with other information from around the country to determine if the respective data—when correlated with additional data via integrative analysis—can assist in finding and defining larger criminal frameworks.

“The after-action analysis produced by the five-member special committee contains important recommendations that will significantly strengthen this police department’s bomb-related investigations,” Metro police Chief John Drake said in a statement following the release of the report. “I am extremely grateful to Ed Yarbrough, Jennifer Gamble, Jill Fitcheard, Dwayne Greene and Kathy Morante for their diligent and focused work over the past several months.”

“Members of Hazardous Devices Units, or bomb squads, are dedicated, highly trained individuals, this police department’s HDU included,” the chief added. “The after-action recommendations being implemented will make their work even better for our city and the Middle Tennessee region”

A portion of 1st Avenue from Broadway to Church Street is temporarily closed to vehicular traffic pending additional analysis and stabilization of historic structures that received the most damage following the bombing. Periodic closures may be common throughout the recovery process. Just last week, 2nd Avenue was reopened between Broadway and Commerce Streets.

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