published Saturday, August 25th, 2012

2 federal lawsuits against Chattanooga police dismissed

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Two separate federal lawsuits against Chattanooga police seeking more than $1 million each have been dismissed by a federal judge.

On Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier dismissed a $1.9 million lawsuit filed last year by Larry Ballanger. In court filings, Ballanger, 61, claimed he "tooted" his car horn at Chattanooga police Officer Cristina Henderson while at a Brainerd Road red light on April 23, 2010.

Henderson pulled behind Ballanger, got out of her car and told him he shouldn't be honking at her, the lawsuit said. The officer then cited Ballanger for noise violation and blocking traffic and, when he refused to sign the citation, Henderson arrested him.

Charges were dismissed in January 2011, and Ballanger filed the lawsuit in April 2011, claiming his rights were violated with the false arrest.

Local attorney Curtis Bowe represented Ballanger. A late message to his office Friday was not returned.

On July 20, Collier also dismissed a $3.4 million lawsuit against three Chattanooga officers, the city, the police department and Hamilton County Ambulance Service.

Antonio T. Smith represented himself in the suit, claiming that, while walking his dog after midnight on July 1, 2009, he encountered a group of people smoking marijuana, according to court documents. When a police car pulled up, the group scattered and he was left standing near the dumped marijuana.

He said Officer Gary Williams approached him and, while questioning him, slammed him to the ground and punched him repeatedly, the suit said. He also claimed in court documents that Officers Brian Angel and Bobby Adams arrived and "stomped" him.

Smith wrote that, once he was handcuffed, he asked for an ambulance and was initially refused.

He filed the lawsuit Aug. 2, 2010, claiming police brutality and other charges, including civil rights violations related to the arrest and his treatment by police.

Court files indicate his last address as Silverdale Correctional Facility. He was unavailable for comment.

Chattanooga city spokesman Richard Beeland deferred comments about the case dismissals to the city attorney's office and police Chief Bobby Dodd.

City Attorney Phil Noblett said that, in Ballanger's case, "state law requires that any person who refuses to sign citations be arrested."

In Smith's lawsuit, "the city was not found to have any improper training or supervision of its officers in this case and the officers were found to have qualified immunity based on their actions which were largely captured on video," Noblett said.

Dodd did not respond Friday.

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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