published Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

City of Chattanooga in court over firing of former soldier

Former Police Chief Freeman Cooper walks out of the U.S. District Court building after he testified Monday.
Former Police Chief Freeman Cooper walks out of the U.S. District Court building after he testified Monday.
Photo by Jenna Walker.
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A $1.5 million federal lawsuit against Chattanooga in which a former police officer claims he was wrongfully fired for having post traumatic stress disorder went to trial Monday.

Plaintiff Mickel Hoback, an officer with the city from 2000 until 2009, testified late in the day in U.S. District Court. City Attorney Crystal Freiberg will continue cross-examining him this morning.

Hoback alleges Chattanooga violated his civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing him for having PTSD. He is suing to get his job back with back pay and benefits and $1.5 million for "humiliation and embarrassment, invasion of privacy, emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish."

After a one-year combat deployment to Iraq, Hoback returned to work at the Chattanooga Police Department in 2006 and was named officer of the year in 2007. He was fired two years later when then-Police Chief Freeman Cooper learned that he had PTSD.

The original federal complaint said Cooper had fired Hoback in retaliation for Hoback's comments to the media in 2008 regarding take-home patrol car changes, but that issue was dropped when the lawsuit was amended.

In February, the Hamilton County Chancery Court ordered Chattanooga to return Hoback to his job with back pay. The results of that ruling await an appeal and the outcome of this trial.

Plaintiffs can pursue lawsuits concurrently in both state and federal courts for the same issue.

The 11-member federal jury warmed to Hoback late Monday afternoon, chuckling at some of his responses to Freiberg's questions.

She asked about comments he made during counseling sessions in 2008 and 2009 when he discussed not remembering things, how much alcohol he drank off duty, what medications he took related to his PTSD, and if his counselor had told him to find other work.

Hoback testified he thought any memory loss was due to getting older, that he took a small dose of lithium to sleep and he and his counselor talked briefly about what other, possibly less stressful, work he might consider.

  • photo
    Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd rides away after testifying Monday at the U.S. District courthouse in Chattanooga.
    Photo by Jenna Walker.
    enlarge photo

He told his counselor that working as a school resource officer or a history teacher seemed interesting, "but nobody told me to change my occupation."

"You didn't think that would be less stressful?" Freiberg asked.

"Being a teacher?" Hoback replied.

At that comment, many on the jury laughed and one woman shook her head.

During earlier testimony, Phillip Lawrence, one of Hoback's two lawyers, asked him if his military service was worth it, considering it may have caused him to lose his job.

"That's kind of a difficult question," Hoback said. "I think that if I get my job back I would, but if not, I think it was too high a price to pay."

Hoback deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005 with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard, then returned to the Chattanooga police. After his deployment, Hoback started seeing a counselor at the Chattanooga Vet Center and was diagnosed with PTSD. Counselors said he was improving with treatment, court records show.

Cooper ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation with a city-contracted psychiatrist, who deemed him unfit for duty after a few hours of testing and interviews.

Hoback saw two other doctors after that evaluation, both of whom said he could return to duty.

Cooper told Hoback he could no longer work as a police officer, citing Tennessee law that barred anyone diagnosed with a mental disorder as ineligible for police work.

But the state law was overruled by federal law and the state of Tennessee agreed to the new law in 2003, six years before Hoback's firing.

Since being fired, Hoback has scraped by on part-time gas station security work and filling in on open shifts at the Graysville Police Department. He's earned about $700 so far this year from Graysville, he testified.

Hoback has been unable to pay electricity bills, forcing him to have his daughter stay with her grandparents when the weather is either too hot or too cold at his Bradley County home, he testified.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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jxlanger said...

So much for serving your country, Officer Hoback. Too bad your country can't repay you for your service.

September 13, 2011 at 2:11 a.m.
schoolteacher said...

Before defending him, maybe you should hear about his previous job before a police officer and history

September 13, 2011 at 7:29 a.m.
macropetala8 said...

The PTSD card is an overplayed diagnosis. Many of today's cops come to the force with serious emotional, psychological and anti-social issues. Some are heavily medicated to begin with, and the profession will still hire them. Many have psychological and mental issues that would ban the average citizen from the most menial of jobs. Yet, their still being allowed to carry weapons and oversee public safety? Then there's the alcoholism issues that's rampant in the profession. I hope the city fights and fights hard! Get rid of these dimwits and start hiring some real professionals.

Chattanooga has become the dumping ground over the years, where cops who've gotten into trouble in other city, county, parrish dept. know they can come to Chattanooga and get hired or hide out until things cool down. Has Reeves been found so that murder warrant can be served?

September 13, 2011 at 8:51 a.m.
WEBMAN said...

THE CITY OF CHATTANOOGA IS ALWAYS BEING SUED FOR SOMETHING THAT THEIR IDIOT EMPLOYEES, LIKE FREEMAN COOPER, CREATE. WHAT'S NEXT, OUR SISTER CITIES SUE US FOR SLANDERING THE NAME "CHATTANOOGA".RECALL LITTLEFIELD NOW AND END THIS PAIN.

September 13, 2011 at 8:59 a.m.
fedup350 said...

macropetala8 you are so full of crap. It is obvious that you have been arrested before and are holding a grudge. I have friends that are cops and you aren’t good enough to shine their shoes. Its people like you that sit at home while real men are out serving in the military and keeping the peace at home and then you run your ignorant mouth with the freedom these kind of people gave you.

From what I hear ex Chief Cooper has cost the city millions in lawsuit payoffs with some of the decisions he made while he was chief. I hope Hoback wins!!!!

September 13, 2011 at 5:22 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

fedup350 said... macropetala8 you are so full of crap. It is obvious that you have been arrested before

Actually, fedup, you ASSume much! I've never been arrested in my life. However, even their own studies have shown the profession is riddled with serious issues that have endangered the lives of fellow officers as well as citizens, and is in need of serious reform.

Another, you're wrong. I never cared for Chief Cooper. He was just a prop. That said, however, Chattanooga was facing massive lawsuits due incompetent and corrupt cops long before Cooper was propped up to become the fall-guy for all the police ills. The pretty boy before him wasn't any better.

September 13, 2011 at 10:35 p.m.
Jennwhite said...

So what job was that schoolteacher? I have the privalige of working where this hearing in taking place and Mr. Hoback's father is retired military, he didn't work anywhere here so I'm not too sure you have that right. And macropetala8 have you ever been in combat? The things that have come out would cause all of us to loose sleep. Mr. Cooper testified on the stand today that he fired him without regard to the ADA. macropetala8 I had the same attitude at first then I researched him after I heard a lot of this. He was an outstanding officer and the citizens in his East Lake community signed a petition with over 400 names stating they wanted him back and what a good officer he was. This is uncommon as petitions are usually to get things changed or people moved not to get them to stay. I'm not for or against police officers but if an officer actually cared about my neighborhood and the people within it like this guy did (was stated by citizens) then he has to be different from the rest. That seems to be the reason Cooper fired him because he was outspoken. The city has tried to taint this man's image trying to get the jury to forget it's an ADA lawsuit and get them focusing on something else. This is a sad sad case and makes me feel ashamed to say I live in Chattanooga. Good Luck Officer Hoback I'm sure you will need it against the corrupt politics in this town.

September 14, 2011 at 12:11 a.m.
Nylawyer said...

If it is true that he was fired due to his post traumatic stress disorder, then I believe that he should be fully compensated. However, $1.5 million does seem a tad much. This happens to many veterans who return from wars. They find it hard to adjust to society again, and perhaps due to some accident on the field, they may suffer from physical or emotion traumas.

Harold - http://www.nylawyer.net

April 4, 2012 at 5:54 a.m.
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