published Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Chattanooga will appeal judge's order to rehire officers

  • photo
    Officer Adam Cooley, from left, Officer Sean Emmer Chattanooga Police Department

Emmer Sean Cooley Adam vs Chattanooga Order
Emmer Sean   Cooley Adam vs Chattanooga Order

The city will appeal a judge's order to rehire two Chattanooga police officers who were fired after a federal inmate suffered a compound fracture when he was beaten during a disorder call last year.

"I stand with Chief [Bobby] Dodd on his decision to terminate the officers' employment," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said in a statement Monday afternoon. "We must maintain the trust of our community, and I will not allow the actions of a few to tarnish the good work of so many officers who do their jobs the right way every day."

An administrative law judge on Thursday ordered the city to give Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley their jobs back. Community reaction was swift; groups organized and called on citizens to show up at today's City Council meeting to urge leaders to appeal the decision.

Berke said the city would appeal on the first day allowed -- Oct. 10. The city has two options: Hamilton County Circuit Court or Chancery Court.

In an interview with the Times Free Press, Dodd said he would fire the officers again if he had the chance. Judge Kim Summers' decision, he said, wouldn't change how he handled the case.

Should the officers return to the department, the chief said, they would not be allowed to interact with the public.

On June 14, 2012, more than a dozen officers responded to a call of an inmate causing a disorder at the Salvation Army halfway house on McCallie Avenue. Adam Tatum, who was completing a sentence for robbery, was ordered to take a drug test when he became unruly and brandished a knife.

Officers used Mace and a Taser, and they struck Tatum more than 40 times with batons and dealt several blows to his face before he was taken into custody. His injuries included blackened eyes, a broken nose and eight breaks to his legs, including a compound fracture.

Administrators determined that Emmer and Cooley used excessive force during the call. They were fired in November 2012. Since that time, a Hamilton County grand jury declined to indict them on criminal charges. Federal investigators also found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Dodd received criticism from some members of law enforcement after saying he would fire the officers again.

"Our justice system cleared the cops. Yet their employer and boss are degrading the judicial process," retired patrol officer Michael Burns said in an email. "The statement of 'I'd fire them again,' who do you think liked it? The men and women in blue or the mayor? It's a good thing we have all those CARTA buses all over town. It makes it easier to throw the warriors under one."

Dodd said the beating, which was caught on video and picked up on Emmer's microphone, was one of the worst he has seen in his 26-year career.

"How a human being can watch that video of the relentless beating and decide that's OK, and these officers need to be returned to their positions as certified police officers and put back out on the streets to deal with the public, it's beyond me," Dodd said.

Ash-Lee Henderson, a member of the community group Concerned Citizens for Justice, helped circulate an online petition to lobby city leaders to appeal the decision.

Henderson, who has collected more than 850 signatures, is hoping people still show up at today's council meeting.

"We're not going away until we know these two officers won't be back on the streets," she said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger

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