Officers used batons, fists, stun guns on unruly inmate, breaking both legs (with video)

Officers used batons, fists, stun guns on unruly inmate, breaking both legs (with video)

February 28th, 2013 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

Surveillance video from the Salvation Army on McCallie Avenue shows two Chattanooga police officers using excessive force on an inmate. Adam Tatum, 37, suffered six fractures to his right leg and two fractures to his left leg, including a compound fracture, when police took him into custody after a disorder.

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

A microphone attached to a Chattanooga police officer's uniform captured a man's screeches of pain and repeated pleas as he was beaten with a baton until his legs were broken, causing the bone to jut through his skin on one.

"Please. Please, please, sir," 37-year-old Adam Tatum begs as officers rain blows on him at the Salvation Army on McCallie Avenue last June.

"Roll over! Roll over! Get down on the ground now!" Officer Sean Emmer barks at Tatum.

The video showing Emmer and Officer Adam Cooley savagely beating Tatum, an inmate of a federal halfway house located in the Salvation Army building, was released Wednesday by the attorney who has filed a $50 million lawsuit on Tatum's behalf.

"The only thing I can tell you is that the video speaks for itself," said Chattanooga attorney Robin Flores. He said he obtained the video through discovery after filing a motion for post-conviction relief for Tatum, who was convicted of several assault charges stemming from the incident.

Police officers were called June 14 about a disorder involving Tatum, who was kicking a door at the Salvation Army building.

The building's surveillance cameras show inmate Adrian McGhee tried to talk Tatum down when staff members called authorities.

As officers James Smith and Emmer arrive, McGhee tells officers, "There ain't no problem."

McGhee and other inmates are ushered away, the video shows. Tatum is ordered by Emmer to place his hands behind his back. A scuffle ensues, and Emmer takes a knife from Tatum.

After the fight, Emmer tells other officers outside he didn't realize Tatum initially had a knife. Before he knew about the knife, Emmer had already placed Tatum in a choke hold and spun him around.

Officers said Tatum continued to resist arrest, but through much of the video, Tatum is on the ground. Officers used a stun gun on Tatum a few times, but said in reports that it was ineffective. Officers continued to strike Tatum until he stopped fighting, they said in earlier newspaper stories.

Tatum suffered six fractures to his right leg and two fractures to his left leg, including a compound fracture.

The video shows Emmer delivering blow after blow using a baton to Tatum's legs and torso as Tatum lies on the ground.

At one point Tatum begs, "Don't kill me like that."

He tells officers that his leg is broken, but the blows continue to fall. Cooley punches Tatum's face repeatedly with a fist.

By this time at least a dozen officers are present. Several maneuver Tatum into handcuffs. They walk him outside with Tatum unable to place weight on his left leg. He sits on a ledge near the walkway as officers congregate nearby.

"My leg is broke," he says.

"Good. That's what happens," Emmer says. Later, the officer asks, "What were you going to do with that knife?"

Tatum never has the chance to answer. Emmer kicks him, sending him backwards.

"Sit the [expletive] down like I told you to," Emmer says.

Tatum's lawsuit names Emmer and Cooley, three current police officers, 11 unidentified police officers, the city and Erlanger Health Systems.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said the department was quick to investigate the allegations. He received a letter from attorney John Wolfe telling him to preserve surveillance footage at the Salvation Army.

Dodd started an internal affairs investigation which led to Cooley and Emmer being fired. Smith, one of the first responding officers, was not disciplined.

"I met with the district attorney to seek prosecution. The determination was made to present it to the grand jury. I also contacted the FBI to look into it for possible civil rights investigation," Dodd said.

A grand jury declined to indict Cooley and Emmer.

"I thought they would be indicted by the Hamilton County grand jury, but they weren't. We can't make them indict. All we can do is present cases to them," Dodd said.

As of Wednesday night, federal authorities had not charged Emmer and Cooley.

Tatum remains incarcerated at Silverdale Correctional Facility.