published Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Attorney of fired officer decries South Pittsburg official's pretrial diversion

South Pittsburg City Administrator Sammy Burrows talks during a tour of areas that experienced flooding in South Pittsburg.
South Pittsburg City Administrator Sammy Burrows talks during a tour of areas that experienced flooding in South Pittsburg.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The attorney for the now-fired arresting officer who took South Pittsburg, Tenn., City Administrator Sammy Burrows to jail on charges of obstruction of officer rights, resisting arrest, speeding and reckless driving is crying foul in the disposition of the case.

Burrows was granted pretrial diversion last month in a guilty plea to reckless driving, but former South Pittsburg Police Department Sgt. Paul West's attorney, Chattanooga lawyer Stevie Phillips, says the agreement was reached without the arresting officers' input.

Burrows, 60, was arrested Nov. 8, 2013, after being pulled over by South Pittsburg Officer Ben Canales for doing 72 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to police reports. West arrived shortly afterward. Burrows and the officers got into a shouting match that ended in a struggle to put handcuffs on Burrows, reports state.

In a statement, Phillips said that West "and Officer Canales went to court and met with the assistant DA. At some point thereafter an agreement was reached between the assistant DA and Burrows' lawyer without Sgt. West or Officer Canales' input."

Assistant District Attorney Dave McGovern said Friday that pretrial diversion is common in such cases and that he talked with Phillips and also with an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police before the agreement was made in court.

"They probably would have preferred something else, but they still felt like they could still go forward with whatever they desired to do," McGovern said.

McGovern said that a formal dispute of the case's disposition would arise from the state or Burrows rather than the officers involved.

The Times Free Press reported on the November South Pittsburg City Commission meeting at which West was subsequently fired, while Burrows was awarded a five-year contract on Nov. 12, 2013, to remain in his position.

Phillips on Friday said there had been no civil suit filed in the case.

She said in her statement, "It's clear that Burrows and the City Council retaliated against Sgt. West when they terminated him for arresting Burrows. They will have to answer for that in a court of law."

If Burrows meets the terms of the pretrial diversion, he can apply for his record to be cleared.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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