Lawsuit alleges Chattanooga police abuse

Lawsuit alleges Chattanooga police abuse

May 15th, 2014 by Todd South in Local Regional News

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A lawsuit filed this week in Hamilton County Circuit Court alleges that three Chattanooga police officers illegally went onto a man's property and used a stun gun on him without provocation, warning or an arrest warrant.

Officers Derek Roncin, Cornelius Gaines and John Watkins were named in the lawsuit filed by local attorney Robin Flores on behalf of Steven James Hacker, 25.

Flores said Wednesday that his client "hopes and has faith that this new chief may be able to change some things out there at [Chattanooga Police Department]."

On Tuesday, the Chattanooga City Council approved the hiring of new Police Chief Fred Fletcher, who comes to the Scenic City from Austin, Texas.

During the Tuesday meeting, City Councilman Moses Freeman told the chief, "We are depending on you. There may need to be a culture shift to create a community relationship with the police department and the kind of trust that we need. We know we want you to solve all the crime as it occurs."

The police department spokesman, Officer Timothy McFarland, declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday and referred questions to the Chattanooga City Attorney's Office.

City Attorney Wade Hinton responded via email through city spokeswoman Lacie Stone that, "This is pending litigation, the City Attorney's office will look into this matter but cannot comment further at this time."

Flores has filed numerous police-brutality lawsuits against the Chattanooga Police Department in federal and state courts. This case references past allegations at various levels of police leadership that he says "establishes a pattern" of misconduct at the department.

According to the documents the incident happened on July 25, 2013. Roncin followed Hacker to the home Hacker shared with his grandmother, Peggy Williams.

Roncin asked to speak with Hacker; Hacker refused. Roncin "became enraged," according to the court documents. Hacker went inside the home.

Gaines pounded on the front door, and Hacker said unless the officers had warrants for his arrest he would not talk with them.

Eventually Hacker came out of the home with his hands raised. Without warning, according to the complaint, Watkins fired a Taser, striking Hacker.

Roncin charged Hacker with assaulting Williams. Williams testified in an October 2013 hearing that she was not assaulted. That charge was dismissed.

As a result of the Taser strike and the subsequent fall, Hacker "suffered life threatening lacerations to an artery under his right arm, another deep laceration by his right collar bone and a large piece of glass impaled his back close to his spine," the complaint states.

The city of Chattanooga has not filed yet filed an answer to the lawsuit. No court date has been set.

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