Chief Dodd: video confirms officer 'excessive' in inmate beating, forced firings
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Approximately six minutes into federal inmate Adam Tatum's encounter with Chattanooga Police June 14, security cameras recorded an exchange that epitomizes both, Tatum's argument that the force officers used was excessive, and two former officers' claims that he was resistant and uncooperative.
"Get your hands behind your back," Officer Sean Emmer told Tatum.
"Please don't do me like that," Tatum responded.
Thursday, Police Chief Bobby Dodd told reporters that his viewing of surveillance video from the Residential Reentry Center that the Salvation Army operates for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP), coupled with audio from Emmer's own link to the recording system in his cruiser, reaffirms his decision to fire Emmer and Officer Adam Cooley for using excessive force.
"I could count 48 strikes (from Emmer's baton), after Tatum came back into camera range following an attempt to flee the officers," Chief Dodd says. "To me, that's excessive."
"Our complaint puts that at about 200," Tatum's attorney, Robin Flores says. "200 individual blows."
Flores is counting hits to Tatum's legs and torso that Emmer and Officer James Smith leveled with their batons, taser shots from Smith and Cooley, and eight punches that the video shows Cooley delivering to Tatum's torso in fewer than ten seconds.
"If you're getting pounded that many times, what are you gonna do when the blows are not stopping," Flores asks.
"They could have used deadly force, and they didn't," answers Cooley and Emmers' attorney, Bryan Hoss.
"He's an armed, violent felon, high on crack cocaine. He's actively resisting, he fights with the officers, he's jerking his arm away -- he runs away from them."
Emmer and Smith were the first officers responding to a summons from the manager of the FBOP's halfway house, after observing Tatum wielding a knife and grabbing fellow resident Adrian McGhee by the shirt collar.
Tatum claims McGhee was a friend, trying to get him to 'chill out' after center staffers refused to allow him to visit his cousin, also housed at the facility.
Hoss and center managers claim Tatum was trying to dodge a mandatory drug test.
"They were dealing with a man with a knife," Hoss says.
"That knife wasn't even in the picture after the takedown," Flores counters.
The video shows Emmer wrapping his left arm around Tatum's neck and gripping Tatum's right shoulder, and encircling his right arm and hand around Tatum's forehead.
Chief Dodd calls that an illegal 'choke hold', contrary to policy. The video also shows Emmer kicking a handcuffed Tatum, as Tatum waits outside for an ambulance to arrive.
"I'm gonna walk with a limp from the damage to my left leg," Tatum told Channel 3 in an exclusive interview that aired November 20.
Tatum spent more than two days in intensive care following surgery in Erlanger Hospital, Flores says. Erlanger is among the defendants named in Tatum's $50 million federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations.
"Erlanger should have tested him for drugs, to put all these claims that he was high, to rest."
The suit also seeks Officers Emmer, Cooley, Smith, fourteen more officers, the Chattanooga Police Department and the City of Chattanooga.
"Those other officers, they had a duty to protect, and did nothing," Flores alleges.
Chief Dodd says that the other officers listed as defendants didn't witness most of the blows Tatum received, and responded to the center to make sure other residents weren't harmed or would join in the fray.
"The Internal Affairs case has been concluded, and no other officer will face discipline," Chief Dodd says.
"Officer Smith did use his baton, he did use his taser, but from looking at the video, and that's the only evidence that we have at this point, his actions were within policy."
Emmer and Cooley have appealed their firings. Chief Dodd will ask the terminations be upheld when an Administrative Law Judge reviews the case in April.
"We thought there were violations of state law," Chief Dodd adds. "That's why we asked the District Attorney to bring charges of aggravated assault."
A grand jury has declined to indict Emmer or Cooley.
"That should be proof enough that the force wasn't excessive," Hoss says. "And the fact that Mr. Tatum pleaded guilty to assaulting them. They were present only because he was terrorizing people."
Tatum is serving his sentence at Silverdale Correctional Facility. Once it's completed, he still must serve the eight weeks remaining in his sentence for Armed Robbery, which landed him in the FBOP halfway house.
Flores had sought release of the security video as part of an effort to overturn that conviction.
"The video speaks for itself, " he says.
Chief Dodd maintains that the video 'doesn't tell the whole story' but that his review of it prompted not only the Internal Affairs investigation that led to Cooley's and Emmer's firings, but his request that the FBI probe whether the officers should face federal charges.
"I don't know where that (the federal probe) stands, but we do police our own agency," he says.
"We do not condone this activity, nor will it be tolerated."
Friday, May 24 2013 3:53 PM EDT2013-05-24 19:53:17 GMT
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