published Friday, March 1st, 2013

Cook: Chattanooga police use of force

They could have handcuffed him. Several times.

Like when he's on the ground, after the sixth or seventh time they struck him, so hard the officer with the black baton is out of breath.

Or moments later, after more hits from the baton -- a point comes when one loses count -- and he's curled up, in some fetal way, crying that his leg is broken.

They could have handcuffed him.

So why didn't they?

Put together, the two officers, muscles ballooning out of their short-sleeve uniforms, probably weigh 400 pounds.

The man on the ground with the broken leg? Couldn't be more than 170, tops.

Yeah, he'd had a knife, which was quickly taken from him.

Sure, he was an inmate, arrested for assault charges.

And being a cop on the midnight shift ain't Easy Street.

But police are trained and taught -- and retrained, retaught -- to match their response with the threat before them.

Which is exactly what officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley did not do.

Last June, officers came to arrest Adam Tatum, 37, from the federal halfway house at the Salvation Army for allegedly causing a disturbance. In a span of 12 minutes, Cooley and Emmer provide textbook behavior on what not to do.

Just watch the video.

It is violent and raw, enough so that the two officers were fired by Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd.

The imagery alone -- white officers beating a black man -- is inflammatory. And hauntingly relevant, appearing in the Times Free Press on the same day Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says many in this land fear a black president, and miles away in Washington, the Supreme Court may decide that parts of the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary.

For all the video's violence, it is equally important to discuss what should have happened.

Like departments across the country, the CPD follows a use-of-force continuum policy, spelled out by the National Institute of Justice.

Someone pulls a knife on you? You pull a gun (can't you hear Sean Connery in "The Untouchables'' right now?)

You match the threat with a suitable response. Tatum, who did little more than lie on the ground, should have never seen a baton that night, much less have had both legs fractured by one.

Officers are taught to use their attitudes, voice and demeanor to defuse, calm, soften. In the beginning, no force. If the heat increases, then turn calm words into shouted commands.

(Within seconds of getting near him, an officer put Tatum in a chokehold, a move not endorsed or taught by CPD.)

If the threat remains, the officer is taught to engage with his or her body through a technique called empty-hand-control.

Grabs, holds, joint locks.

And harder stuff: punches, kicks, but never to the head or face. (Cooley hits Tatum on the face with his fist.)

Following this: less-lethal methods like a Taser, pepper spray or batons.

At the top of the use-of-force continuum: lethal force. Drawing one's sidearm. A last resort.

Tatum never does what they ask him to do: roll over, hands behind back and so on. At one point, he appears in survival mode, and may not even hear them.

In their rogueness, Cooley and Emmer redlined it; they go medieval on Tatum, matching passive resistance with heavy blows.

So if they are trained -- and trained, and trained -- to do the exact opposite, why did Cooley and Emmer act this way?

Maybe someone will ask them that question in the days to come. Like when they appear before an administrative law judge.


Cooley and Emmer are trying to get their jobs back.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Bluekate said...

I couldn't believe the front page of yesterday's paper; a friend reminded me that yesterday was the last day of Black history month. Somehow I was under the mistaken impression that Tennessee was one of the more progressive Southern states, before I moved here two years ago.

March 1, 2013 at 7:26 a.m.
jjmez said...

Somehow I was under the mistaken impression that Tennessee was one of the more progressive Southern states

Believe me when I say It's not. What's unique is the media, at least Times Free Press, wasn't complicit in helping to downplay or outright cover it up. Chattanooga's Grand Jury appear friends of the police. I'm not at all surprised those two weren't indicted. Although one, Cooley, was just in the news prior to this incident accused of using excessive force in another incident. You'll find that same attitude in most courtroom here too.
How many others have they done this to and there were just no cameras around to record them?

March 1, 2013 at 9:23 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Bluekate, the term, progressive southern states, is a contradiction, an oxymoron.

March 1, 2013 at 12:33 p.m.
jesse said...

Bad cops are not a southern monopoly!NOR is racism,corruption or anything else!I would be interested to have you tell me where on this planet you could live where this cannot happen!Maybe Easter Island??

March 1, 2013 at 12:49 p.m.
Leaf said...

Is it just me or has the paper has gotten more investigative lately? Excellent trend. Kudos, TFP. Power to the fourth estate!

March 1, 2013 at 2:21 p.m.
joetheplumber said...

Piss on him. You play, you pay. They should have killed the bastard. This is not a black/white issue. It is about doing what you are told when you are told to do it. If the TFP has been "more investigative lately" then why did the not include the attack on the worker last year at the same Salvation Army where a guard was nearly beaten to death? I don't want my ass beat so you can bet that I will do what I've been told - when I am told to do so.

March 1, 2013 at 7:08 p.m.
yaffay said...

Police officers are sworn to uphold the law and must exhibt a high standard of behavior. The actions by officers in the video are a most sickening example of police brutality.

March 1, 2013 at 11:17 p.m.
jjmez said...

What's even equally sickening and disturbing was all those other cops standing around and none sought to stop the brutality? As if this is the norm or they were too fearful to say or do something. Fear of taking action against two obvious brute cops gone over the edge? Not surprising. In another situation where another cop took steps and reported to I.A. what he believed was a case of excessive force by a fellow cop, he found himself on the wrong side of that cop culture to serve and product their own.

March 2, 2013 at 3:03 a.m.
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