Lt. Col. Stephen Jaco (WSMV file photo)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) –
Lt. Col. Stephen Jaco’s time with the Tennessee National Guard is over.
A News 4 I-Team investigation revealed how Jaco was able to keep his high rank and military pay with the Tennessee National Guard, despite being convicted of a DUI and possession of a handgun under the influence two years ago.
But in a short statement to the I-Team, Tennessee National Guard spokesman Randy Harris wrote, "I can verify that Stephen Jaco is no longer with the Tennessee National Guard. The circumstances of his departure are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974."
While the I-Team has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the reasons for his departure, the timing comes after a ruling by an appellate court judge in June that deemed the convictions from June 2015 would stand.
In video of Jaco’s arrest, he admits to drinking and driving and also that it was wrong for him to have a loaded weapon in his car.
Tennessee National Guard whistle blowers said soldiers like Jaco were tainting the guard’s reputation.
"You’re the face of the oldest military organization in the country. You should be above reproach," the whistle blower said.
In 2016, the I-Team asked Anthony Clark, Jaco’s attorney, about the whistle blowers’ criticism.
"Someone who has been convicted of a DUI, while in possession of a handgun. Is that the kind of person who should remain in the National Guard?" asked the I-Team.
“He has been convicted but is on appeal. We believe we have issues that the court of appeals will look at favorably in this instance. I think ultimately, the conviction will be overturned,” Clark said.
But that appeal was ultimately denied.
When the I-Team first exposed Jaco’s continued employment and high rank despite his convictions, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted him, Jack Arnold, sent a letter to the governor about his displeasure, writing, “It came to my attention that Jaco is still an active duty member of the guard. Frankly, I cannot get my head around this.”
"I was surprised that he was still in the Tennessee National Guard and still at his rank,” Arnold said in 2016.
What is unclear, is if Jaco’s ability to stay in the guard despite his criminal convictions has anything to do with what whistle blower described as a waiver system, in which the guard allows soldiers to stay despite criminal behavior.
Since 2015, the I-Team has been waiting on Freedom of Information Act requests that would explain the waiver system and how many soldiers may be on it.
A recent letter from the Tennessee National Guard read that our requests are still under review.
The I-Team is committed to uncovering this waiver system and will report when the records become available.
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