Chattanooga wins stay in case, keeping two cops from being returned to duty

Chattanooga wins stay in case, keeping two cops from being returned to duty

October 12th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Adam Cooley, left, and Sean Emmer

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

The city has prevailed in the first of two court actions being pursued in a bid to keep two fired police officers from being returned to duty.

However, Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas did order the city to put officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley back on the payroll.

Emmer and Cooley were fired in November over accusations that they used excessive force in the June 14, 2012, beating of a federal inmate that left him with two broken legs.

Administrative Law Judge Kim Summers, of Nashville, last month ordered that the officers be reinstated and receive full back pay, but the city asked for a temporary restraining order blocking their return to work pending an appeal.

On Friday, Thomas agreed that the officers shouldn't return to work in light of the appeal and granted the city's request.

Bryan Hoss, Emmer's attorney, said Thomas' decision means the city has to pay nearly a year's worth of back pay and benefits to the two officers. Both officers were making in the mid-$30,000 per year range.

"He's the second judge in the last 30 days that said these officers are entitled to full back pay," said Hoss. "[The city] should be writing those checks very shortly."

The city's request to review Summers' order and all the facts surrounding the case is expected to be assigned to a local judge next week.

In a decision issued Sept. 24, Summers ordered the city to reinstate Emmer and Cooley, finding that the officers had acted in accordance with their training when they struck Adam Tatum more than 44 times with a metal baton during a confrontation at the Salvation Army halfway house on McCallie Avenue.

The decision sparked public outcry, and activists said the community was terrified of Emmer and Cooley returning to the department.

Police Chief Bobby Dodd said he had never received more public outcry and agreed that the two should not be returned to the force. He said that doing so could put his officers at risk along with the public.

"I've been amazed by the outpouring from the citizens that ... demanded these officers not go back to work," Dodd said. "If the public at large doesn't trust the police department ... we can't effectively do our job in the community."

Thomas said he understood why it could cause harm to the city if the officers returned to work at this time.

City Attorney Wade Hinton wouldn't comment on whether the city will pay back a year's worth of pay and benefits, saying he first had to consult the city administration.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.