published Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

72-year-old man details alleged beating by McMinn County, TN police officers

  • photo
    Attorney Arthur Knight III, center, walks with his clients Dale Murray, left, and Jonathan Scott, right, Monday as they return to the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building for the afternoon session of a $2 million civil trial in which Jarrett French alleges the McMinn County deputies beat him and broke his left leg during a 2010 traffic stop.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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A 72-year-old man who alleges two McMinn County, Tenn., officers beat him told jurors in federal court Monday that the two men stomped on one of his legs so badly that when it broke it sounded like a "stick of dry wood" snapping.

French Jarrett sued the officers, Dale Murray and Jonathan Scott, for $2 million over the 2010 incident.

In opening statements, attorneys for Jarrett described the case as one in which the two McMinn County officers assaulted their client without provocation and beat him into submission.

But defense attorney Arthur Knight III told the jury the claims were "ridiculous" and that testimony would contradict much of what the plaintiff would claim.

Jarrett was the first witness called to testify.

He said he left his County Road 89 home on the evening of Aug. 16, 2010 to visit his ailing sister and brother-in-law about four blocks away. Both suffered from cancer and have since died.

Along the way he saw his 17-year-old grandson, who asked for a ride to a nearby gas station. Jarrett drove the boy to the gas station, dropped him off and then turned back to visit his sister.

He noticed a car behind him but didn't pay it much attention. Jarrett pulled into his sister's driveway, got out of the truck and walked to the front porch.

"Get back in that ---- truck," Jarrett testified he heard McMinn County Sheriff's Deputy Dale Murray yell.

He turned to look and saw that both Murray and Jonathan Scott, a sheriff's jailer on a ride-along that night, had their guns drawn.

Jarrett did as he was told.

Once at the truck, Murray continued cursing him as he asked for Jarrett's driver's license, Jarrett testified.

Scott stayed on the passenger side of the truck. Jarrett's sister and brother-in-law had come to the door and turned on the porch light. Murray yelled at them to go back inside.

Murray returned to the truck and Jarrett reached into his front shirt pocket to get his wallet so he could put his license back. Murray asked what he was doing and then punched the elderly man in the face, Jarrett testified.

Less than 100 feet away, across the county road, Charlotte Hawkins was on the front porch of her sister's mobile home smoking a cigarette. She saw Murray's gun drawn and heard him shout profanities at Jarrett but couldn't make out much else.

Hawkins testified that she heard Murray say, "Look I got me a truck now. This is my ---- truck now."

She couldn't see what was going on inside the truck, she testified.

Jarrett told the jury that after Murray punched him he fell to the right and gripped the steering wheel, fearing for his life.

He said Scott grabbed him in a headlock while Murray grabbed his legs, trying to drag him from the truck. When Jarrett wouldn't let go of the steering wheel, Murray began stomping his legs, he testified.

The 6-foot, 3-inches tall and 265-pound deputy continued stomping Jarrett's legs when he was lying on his back on the ground.

The break made an audible pop, Jarrett testified.

"Sound like a stick of dry wood," he told the jury.

Hawkins got worried when she heard the continued struggle. In the darkening night, she saw a metallic flash and heard what she thought was some object striking Jarrett.

She heard him begging the police to help him with his leg, saying it was broken.

More police arrived, then an ambulance. Jarrett was not arrested or charged, but he was handcuffed, first in his sister's yard then to a gurney at Woods Memorial Hospital for four days before being transferred to Parkridge East Hospital. He's since had three surgeries and continues to use a walker.

Ten months later, in June 2011, Jarrett was charged with a seatbelt violation, simple possession of marijuana and crack cocaine, and resisting arrest. Those charges were dismissed.

Knight challenged Hawkins' testimony, noting that she could see very little of what happened and only heard what Murray said at the beginning of the altercation.

He also pushed back on Jarrett's statements, asking him had he not begged Murray not to arrest him at the hospital and promised to share information about drug dealers if Murray didn't arrest him.

Jarrett denied both of Knight's assertions.

Murray still works as a patrol deputy for the McMinn County Sheriff's Office. Scott left the McMinn County Sheriff's Office shortly after the 2010 incident and went to work at the Niota Police Department, where he was indicted along with fellow Niota Sgt. Keith McCarter on official oppression charges in an unrelated 2011 traffic stop that involved allegations of a police beating.

Those charges were dismissed. Both Scott and McCarter were fired from the Niota department in 2013. Closing arguments are today in Judge Curtis Collier's courtroom.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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