Ex-Chattanooga police officer involved in beating controversy seeks job as SRO

Ex-Chattanooga police officer involved in beating controversy seeks job as SRO

April 16th, 2014 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

HOW THE HIRING PROCESS WORKS

The eight school resource officer positions at the sheriff's office were advertised both internally and publicly through an advertisement in the newspaper. As of last week, six of those positions had been filled -- four internal candidates and two lateral transfers who are already state certified.

Applicants undergo screening and background checks. They are interviewed by a review board of sheriff's office employees. The candidates get ranked depending on how they score.

Hammond is given a list of the top candidates. He gets to choose who gets the positions, he said.

"That's where I could technically play politics," he said.

Most of the time, Hammond said he follows the order, though. He has until August, when school starts, to fill the positions.

Officer Sean Emmer Chattanooga Police Department

Document: Sean Emmer Job Application

Sean Emmer school resource officer job application.

A Chattanooga police officer who was fired after he severely beat a federal inmate -- but was rehired after being cleared of wrongdoing -- has applied to work as a school resource officer at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

"I wanted to start fresh at a new department," Sean Emmer said on his application.

Emmer repeatedly struck Adam Tatum with a baton, causing numerous breaks in his legs while answering a disturbance call in June 2012. Emmer had worked at the Chattanooga Police Department for more than three years before he was fired.

He and fellow officer Adam Cooley were later exonerated and were rehired as part of a legal settlement, then resigned.

"[Emmer] has been vindicated by a judge ... I think he's actively seeking employment," said Bryan Hoss, an attorney who represents Emmer.

Even so, Sheriff Jim Hammond said he probably won't hire Emmer for the position.

"He had applied but he hasn't been considered and probably won't be," Hammond said.

Federal authorities found no cause for criminal charges against the officers. A Hamilton County grand jury declined to indict them. When the officers appealed their termination to an administrative law judge, she ordered that they be reinstated.

But the public outrage that flared upon release of a video of the June 2012 beating never subsided, and the city stood by former Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd's decision to fire the officers.

Rather than appeal the judge's ruling, the city reached an agreement with the officers in January.

Each of the officers agreed to resign after he was rehired in exchange for $44,000 in pay and benefits for the time between his firing and reinstatement, plus an additional $15,000, or about four months of salary.

Asked about Emmer's application, Hammond said he didn't recall the name.

"Once you get that tainted sometimes, and I'm not saying that happened to him cause I didn't even recognize the name when you said it," Hammond said. "I had forgot who it was. But I did check it."

He said he asked his staff if Emmer made it into the ranks of the top-scoring candidates.

"I said, 'Did he make the cut?' and they said, 'No.' How far did he get? I don't know," Hammond said.

Cooley has inquired about a police officer position at Red Bank Police Department, said Police Chief Tim Christol. However, Cooley had already missed the deadline to apply. Christol said he wouldn't rule out hiring one of the officers if they met the standards and applied.

"I would have to take a look at it a little bit deeper -- find out a little more. There's been so much stuff reported. I don't know the real facts," Christol said.

An open records request shows that both Emmer and Cooley still have their state Police Officer and Standards and Training Commission certification. The status for both officers remains as pending.

Dodd had requested that both officers' certification be revoked. However, attorneys for both officers submitted the administrative law judge opinion in arguing that the certification should be maintained.

As part of the January agreement, the city agreed not to pursue revocation of the officers' state certification, Hoss said.

"For any case like this, there's got to be somebody from the city who is pushing the envelope and there isn't," he said.

Ash-Lee Henderson, a member of a grass-roots advocacy group, Concerned Citizens for Justice, said the officers shouldn't be able to work at other departments. The groups sat through all three days of the administrative law judge hearing and lobbied the city not to rehire the officers.

"If they do get another job and someone else is beaten or, God forbid, killed, the city of Chattanooga will share some of that blood on its hands," said Henderson, in a previously released statement on behalf of the group. "The beating of Adam Tatum was not the first time either of these officers faced complaints of excessive force."

Emmer and Cooley still are involved in pending lawsuits against the city involving complaints from residents.

Joyce Hardwick filed suit last year in Hamilton County Circuit Court seeking $500,000 in damages for alleged injuries she sustained when arrested by Emmer and Cooley in April 2012.

Richard McPeek filed a lawsuit last year saying his civil rights were violated by Emmer when he was punched twice in the face outside of Southern Comfort Steakhouse on Broad Street.

Hoss is representing the city and officers.

"These are two frivolous lawsuits that are out there. We're trying to wrap them up as quick as we can," he said.

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