Sixty East Lake Courts residents have signed a petition calling for three Chattanooga Housing Authority police officers to be fired.
Hector Martinez and his fiancee, Beaneit Seagrove, have gathered 140 signatures requesting that officers James Avery, Harriet White and Pete Gillen be fired from the CHA police force for harassing residents.
Sixty East Lake Courts residents signed the petition, CHA officials said. Seagrove said the other 80 signatures were from visitors to the site, including their friends and family.
"We are tired of the inappropriate actions that these officers take and are coming together as a community to ensure the safety of our residence," the petition states.
CHA officials said training will be provided to "all of the CHA police officers on communication with residents during encounters that are stressful to both the police and residents," according to a letter dated Nov. 1 and signed by Charles T. Barnett, Nashville Program Center director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees CHA.
In his letter, Barnett wrote that, "We feel CHA is in compliance with programmatic requirements for administration of the public housing program and enforcing security for the safety of all families living on their properties."
Martinez said he wants Avery to be fired because Avery is training other officers to treat residents the same as he does.
"If we cussed at him like he cusses at us, we would go to jail," Martinez said.
Attempts to reach the three officers through the CHA police headquarters were unsuccessful Monday.
The petition and harassment accusations concerning Avery come about four months after CHA settled with public housing resident Crystal Ramsey after she filed a lawsuit stating that Avery "slapped her on the side of her face."
Ramsey asked for $200,000 in the suit. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed by either party.
Martinez and Seagrove claim Avery harassed them on five or six occasions from April 2010 until November 2011 when the couple moved out of East Lake Courts. Seagrove said Avery stopped the couple while they were driving and claimed it was in retaliation to complaints they had made about him to CHA officials.
She also said he stopped her without reason when she was driving alone, then slammed her driver's license on her car's dashboard so hard the dashboard cracked.
"I've never had somebody do something like that to me," Seagrove said. "I just froze. I started crying. I was just so upset because I had not experienced that before."
CHA Chief of Public Safety Felix Vess recently attended a meeting with Seagrove, Martinez and CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright. Vess noted that Martinez was on the CHA's trespassing list, which has the names of people who don't live in public housing but are seen on site without identification, which is against CHA rules.
Martinez also admitted during the meeting that he drove without a driver's license, but he claimed other officers stopped him because Avery said to do it.
Martinez has had long visits with Seagrove for nearly three years but wasn't on her lease until June 2011, about five months before they moved to another apartment that is not on public housing property.
Vess also noted that all five officers on CHA's staff, including Avery, said Martinez wasn't causing any problems on the site.
"Sometimes it's hard to ignore when people call you this or that or the other," said Vess.
"You have to know everybody is a person," he said. "You've got to treat that person like you'd like your mother to be treated."
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...