published Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Rhea County sheriff hasn't probed inmate beating allegation

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Walter Gann's handwritten complaint
Walter Gann's handwritten complaint
  • Escapee leads police on chase to Dayton, Tenn.
    Walter Gann, a Dade County Sheriff's office trustee, escaped Thursday from a work detail and led police on chase to Dayton, Tenn. This patrol car video shows Rhea County Sheriff's office Charlie Jenkins attempting to stop Gann.

It's been 18 days since an inmate complained that two Rhea County sheriff's deputies beat him, kicked him in the face and groin and slammed him against a patrol car after he surrendered to police.

Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal, though, says he won't open an investigation unless he gets a direct complaint from inmate Walter Gann. On Monday, Neal said an officer had interviewed Gann in the Rhea County Jail and Gann had told the officer "he was happy" to be there and "wanted to be in jail."

The complaint by Gann, 36, originated from an arrest May 30, when Gann led police on a 65-mile chase through Dayton, Tenn., after escaping from a Dade County, Ga., jail work site in a public works truck. The Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained a copy of a written complaint after Gann was arrested and was hospitalized complaining of rib pain.

The Graysville Police Department did an internal investigation of the incident, and police Chief Erik Redden said he found the inmate's complaint to be valid.

But last week, 12th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Mike Taylor said sheriff's office personnel told him they had met with Graysville police and Redden hadn't indicated "the inmate was treated badly."

Now Taylor said he has a copy of the Graysville Police Department's investigation and will examine it to decide if he should call in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look at the sheriff's office.

"If there's something in it, I'll put in a request to the TBI," he said.

Since the Times Free Press ran an article on Gann's complaint, the sheriff's office has insisted the allegations are false. But Neal admitted Monday he hadn't asked to see the Graysville police internal affairs investigation.

In a meeting behind closed doors at attorney Carol Ann Barron's office, Neal, Redden and other officials talked about the complaint. During the meeting Barron, who is both the Rhea County and Graysville attorney, called a reporter.

"There's no cover-up here," she said.

But when a reporter asked to join the meeting in Barron's office, Barron said: "I charge by the hour. Bring your checkbook."

Before Gann was arrested, he led police on a high-speed chase across Rhea County, weaving in and out of two-lane traffic, records show. He was pursued by Graysville police and Rhea County sheriff's officers. But Rhea County Deputy Charlie Jenkins and Detective Mike Bice were called off the chase several miles before Gann jumped from his moving truck and ran into a field.

Records show Graysville police Officer Shawn Shelton stopped the chase when he used a stun gun on Gann and he fell to the ground.

Afterward, a report shows, Gann lay on the ground and surrendered. Gann claims he was assaulted by two Rhea County sheriff's deputies who drove up after he was on the ground obeying orders.

Redden said Gann was taken to a hospital for complaints of pelvic and rib pain. But Neal said Gann was taken to the hospital because the stun gun's hooks were still lodged into his body and rib pain.

Gann faces multiple felony charges in Rhea and Dade counties.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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