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State investigators are looking into whether two Rhea County sheriff’s deputies struck Walter Gann in the face, kicked him in the ribs and groin and slammed him into a patrol car after a pursuit.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announcement comes two days after Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal said he wouldn’t look into Gann’s complaint unless he heard it from Gann’s lips or saw a written complaint.
Mike Taylor, district attorney in the 12th Judicial District, initiated the probe after he saw an investigation conducted by the arresting agency — the Graysville Police Department.
Taylor said the Rhea County Sheriff’s Office told him there was no indication of inmate abuse, but he realized after examining the report the claim needed to be investigated further.
Then, he said, he learned the incident actually took place in Birchwood, which is not in Rhea County, and he handed the case over to Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox.
On May 30, Gann, an inmate trusty in Dade County, Ga., took a county public works truck vehicle from a work site and led law officers on a 65-mile chase in Rhea County.
When Gann entered Dayton, Tenn., Rhea County sheriff’s detective Mike Bice and Deputy Charlie Jenkins joined the chase, but they were called off by a supervisor.
Gann eventually jumped out of the moving truck and ran into a field but was stopped by Graysville police officer Shawn Shelton, who used his stun gun to subdue Gann.
Gann claimed in a written statement that after he had given up and was lying on the ground, the sheriff’s officers drove up and began to beat him. The Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained a copy of his statement.
Bice has denied the allegations, but confirmed that he went to the site where Gann was arrested and saw him lying face-down with his hands underneath him.
Though it is customary in many departments to place officers on paid leave during a TBI investigation, the two officers’ status was unknown Thursday.
The sheriff’s office referred all calls to County Attorney Carol Ann Barron, who didn’t return calls seeking comment Thursday.
Gann is being held in Rhea County Jail, charged with multiple felonies.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...