Judge Collier, In 18-Page Ruling, Defends Allowing Racially-Charged Tape In Pilot Trial

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Judge Curtis Collier, in an 18-page ruling, defended allowing a racially-charged tape recording in the Pilot Travel Centers trial.

The jury in Chattanooga earlier was allowed to hear brief excerpts of the secretly-recorded tape made at a lake house at Rockwood, Tn.

Judge Collier noted that a number of direct sales employees were there for a management meeting to plan a larger sales meeting and training at Pilot headquarters in Knoxville in November 2012. Mark Hazelwood, Pilot president at the time, arrived at the lake house later in the evening.

The judge said the three recordings that were played for the jury "included defendant Hazelwood and a number of his subordinates using racist epithets, listening to a song defendant Hazelwood suggested be played containing racist and sexually explicit lyrics, and making various comments and jokes about sensitivity training, Pilot's human resources department, Pilot's board, and other subjects."

Judge Collier said he allowed the evidence "to rebut defendant Hazelwood's evidence of the character trait of sound business judgment."

The government had sought to introduce the evidence, alleging that attorneys for Hazelwood "had introduced evidence of his character for sound business judgment, in the sense that he would not participate in or allow dumb activities by his subordinates, such as lying to customers in a small part of the business, that would risk bringing down the business he had done so much to develop."

Hazelwood is charged along with Scott Wombold, Heather Jones and Karen Mann as part of a scheme to defraud trucking companies by promising them certain discounts, but paying them less.

All defense attorneys sought to have the evidence excluded.

Judge Collier said it should be sufficient that he instructed the jury that it was to be considered against Hazelwood only and not at all against the other three.

Defense attorneys maintain the evidence was more prejudicial than probative and quoted one prior case as saying "the most unfairly prejudicial and dangerous evidence in a trial is that of racial bias and prejudice."

An attorney for several media outlets is asking Judge Collier to unseal motions and rulings relating to the tapes as well as transcripts of its full contents. He has not yet ruled on that issue.

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