Inmate, alleged victim talks about claims of excessive force - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

ONLY ON 3: Inmate, alleged victim talks about claims of excessive force

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- His lawyer isn't opening up his medical records yet.

But five months since his tangle with Chattanooga Police, and in his first public interview on the subject, Adam Tatum, 36, looks better than he says he's healed.

"After they beat me the way they did, I wouldn't beat a stray dog like that," Tatum tells Channel 3.

"I'm gonna walk with a limp, from the damage to my left leg. This hit right here, actually split my shin in two. And I still got a lot of elbow pain, because they broke both elbows."

They, Tatum says, are two now-former Chattanooga Police Officers, Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley. Chief Bobby Dodd fired them after an Internal Affairs investigation found that they had used 'excessive force' when they arrested Tatum June 14.

Cooley and Emmer were among several officers who answered a disturbance call at the Residential Re-Entry Center, a halfway house that the Salvation Army operates for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Monday, their attorney, Bryan Hoss, filed notice that both will appeal their firings.

Tuesday, Tatum's attorney, Robin Flores, filed a petition in Hamilton County Criminal Court to overturn the plea deal Tatum accepted after being charged with assaulting both officers. That plea deal bought Tatum 11 months and 29 days in the Silverdale Correctional Facility.

Tatum's criminal record details more than two dozen charges in the past 17 years. He had been at the Re-Entry Center barely more than a week, after serving a federal sentence for armed robbery. 

He was raised in Chattanooga. His parents and several siblings still live here. A cousin was an inmate at the center too, so he would be among family.

But by his own admission, the preceding day hadn't gone well.
"Every now and then, I get a little paranoid," he says. "Because for the last two years and two weeks, I've been sleeping in a cell with one dude."

When midnight rolled around, Tatum says, he'd been back at the center for eight hours, after looking for work and not finding any. 

"It is an important part of their stay with us, that they find employment," says Kimberly George, Communications Director for the Salvation Army's Chattanooga branch.

Police and the FBI have refused to comment, or to release any reports connected to Tatum's encounter with police shortly after midnight June 14. 

Both agencies describe their investigations as 'open.' Police say a third, and yet unnamed, officer may face discipline.

But Channel 3 has obtained documents from other sources, that indicate Chattanooga Police and the BOP differ on how the disturbance began.

A BOP 'Incident Report, dated June 14 and then amended July 9, indicates that Tatum got into 'an argument or verbal confrontation' with a fellow inmate, Adrian McGhee.

"Tatum was shown on the (surveillance) video recording to be holding McGhee by his shirt and vigorously shaking him back and forth," Center Director Steve Schwieger wrote in his 'corrected incident report' July 9.

Schwieger has referred all questions to the Bureau of Prisons, which has declined comment. McGhee is unavailable for comment. BOP records indicate McGhee has been transferred to the low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, Arkansas.

Tatum tells Channel 3 that McGhee is a 'childhood friend.'

"I'm talking to him, a lot of hand movement," Tatum says. "But as far as touching him in an aggressive manner? No."

But the Chattanooga Police Affidavit of Complaint, used to charge Tatum, claims that officers arrived to find a center employee "in fear for his life"  and Tatum "kicking the control room door."

"There wasn't no threats being made," Tatum claims. "He said something I didn't like, and one thing led to another."

The complaint goes on to state that Tatum "came out in an aggressive manner toward Officer Sean Emmer" and another officer.

But Schwieger's BOP report indicates that Emmer and the other officer began to restrain Tatum "as Tatum was walking away."

But both reports cite surveillance video as proof that "Tatum was in possession of a knife" which he dropped on the floor while struggling with Emmer and another officer.

"One of the CPD officers was able to pick it up and keep it away from Tatum," the BOP report states. 

The criminal complaint asserts that Emmer and another officer "stated they were in fear for their lives," and that Tatum "even tried to spit blood on Officer Emmer" after he'd been restrained.

Tatum denied having a knife, when Channel 3 asked him about it specifically.

"All I had in my hand was an MP-3 player," he says.

The BOP report states the center's surveillance video cameras recorded another inmate picking up the knife and returning to the Men's Dormitory, before police took Tatum into custody.

"Later a search of the 'big dorm' was done, but the knife was never recovered," the BOP report concludes. 

The BOP's report nor the criminal complaint make no mention of Officer Adam Cooley. But Tatum says the two encountered each other after he broke free from Officer Emmer.

"To my recollection, it was Cooley that broke my legs," Tatum says. "I was looking in his face, because I was trying to block my shins."

"That's all I pretty much remember, being tased, maced, and the deal with the night sticks."

Cooley, Tatum claims, rode with him in the ambulance to Erlanger Medical Center and then, with Officer Emmer, guarded him while he was treated and recuperating.

Cooley and Emmer's attorney, Bryan Hoss, has declined Channel 3's requests to interview his clients or to view the surveillance video.

But Hoss claims the video offers proof that the force used was not 'excessive' given Tatum's conduct.

"You have a violent convicted felon who's held a staffer at knifepoint," Hoss told Channel 3 in a telephone interview Friday.

"He's high on crack cocaine, you can see him pulling the taser darts from his chest!  These officers were just trying to take him down safely."

"Let's see the video," Tatum's attorney, Robin Flores, responds. "They won't do it."

In his Petition For Post-Conviction Relief, Flores asserts that Tatum never would have pleaded guilty to assaulting Officers Emmer and Cooley had police and prosecutors shown Tatum's then-public defender all of the surveillance video.

Tatum pleaded guilty July 11 to one count of assault, in exchange for prosecutors dropping one count of aggravated assault, four counts of simple assault, and charges of resisting arrest and marijuana possession.

"I just felt it was in my best interest to get low and go," Tatum says.

"It deprived Mr. Tatum effective counsel to make an informed decision," Flores says. 

Flores' petition asks for an evidentiary hearing to view the full video, and orders setting aside Tatum's conviction and dismissing the charges "upon principles of due process."

"We've just received notice," Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox tells Channel 3 in a telephone interview. "We'll review it and file a response."

Flores concedes that the video is critical to his second planned action: a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Chattanooga Police violated Tatum's Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable seizure.

"We're looking at $10 million for total damages," Flores says. "There was so much blood the hospital staff thought he'd been shot."

Tatum claims his family already has received bills for his medical expenses. He maintains that his injuries will prevent him from working in a number of better-paying jobs. And he says he shares Flores' assertion that his injuries should send police a 'punishing' message about what level of force is acceptable.

"A check for how much," Tatum answers, when asked to name a figure. "A lot."

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