Posted By Callie Starnes, Anchor/Reporter - bio | email
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- A surveillance video obtained by Channel 3 of a confrontation between Chattanooga Police and federal inmate Adam Tatum has prompted a news conference Thursday morning.
The confrontation between Chattanooga Police and federal inmate Adam Tatum at the Salvation Army's halfway house last June that put Tatum in the hospital with broken bones and got Officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley fired for use of excessive force.
Tatum's attorney, Robin Flores, obtained the video through court order from the Hamilton County District Attorney General's office. He's seeking to have Tatum's convictions thrown out, after Tatum pleaded guilty to assaulting the officers.
"We counted at least 200 blows, 200 individual blows," says Tatum's attorney, Robin Flores. "They were dragging him by his broken leg."
"He (Tatum) was absolutely resisting," says Bryan Hoss, attorney for the fired officers. "He was trying to run away, he was spitting blood at the officers. They tased him, and it wasn't working."
Hoss says that the incident began after Tatum refused staffer's demands for a drug test after returning to the Residential Re-Entry Center on McCallie Avenue, a halfway house the Salvation Army operates for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP)
"He was high on crack cocaine," Hoss says. "He admitted as much."
"There's no evidence of any drugs," Flores counters. "The hospital never even performed a blood test."
Flores concedes that Tatum had a knife, but maintains that his dispute with Center staffers concerned their refusal to allow him to visit his cousin, also an inmate at the facility.
"There wasn't a fight," Flores insists. "The man (see in the video) in the blue polo was a friend of his trying to get him to let it go. There was no threat."
But an account from FBOP supervisor Steve Schweiger alleges that Tatum was threatening fellow inmate Adrian McGhee and trying to kick in the door to the control room.
The Center's surveillance video is silent. The sounds you will hear come from Emmers' handset microphone, recording the audio into the security system of his CPD cruiser.
Emmer, and an officer identified as James Smith, are first seen confronting Tatum as he attempts to leave the Center's lobby. Emmer places his arms around Tatum's neck and takes him to the floor.
The video shows Emmer and Smith striking Tatum repeatedly with their batons. Later, Officer Adam Cooley also is shown striking Tatum.
"The force is progressive," Hoss says. "But Tatum is not complying. And these officers are operating in the post-(Sgt.) Tim Chapin era, where they don't know if he has a weapon other than the knife."
CPD Sgt. Tim Chapin died in a shootout with armed robbery suspect Jesse Mathews outside a Brainerd pawn shop April 2, 2011. Mathews had dropped one gun, but drew another to shoot Chapin in the head. Mathews has since pleaded guilty to Chapin's murder, avoiding a trial in which prosecutors were seeking the death penalty. He is doing life without the possibility of parole.
Flores has filed a $50 million suit in U.S. District Court, alleging that the City of Chattanooga, Erlanger Hospital, Emmer, Cooley, Smith, two other named officers and eleven unnamed officers violated Tatum's civil rights to due process.
"$30 million of that is punitive, to make sure nothing like this happens again," he says. "The video speaks for itself."
Hoss maintains that the video tells only part of the story. "The fact that a grand jury refused to indict my clients on criminal charges should tell you their actions were justified," he says.
"Mr. Tatum could have avoided having his leg broken if he simply had complied with the officer's directives."