BENTON, Tenn. — In a video visitation room at the Polk County Jail, Gary Lee Lipps Jr. pulled up his orange jail jumpsuit and showed where a police dog's teeth had pierced the skin and sunk into the muscle of his right thigh.
A series of red scars marked an area of about a handspan on the top of his leg; the underside bore a set of grooves, some more than an inch long.
Altogether, doctors at Tennova Healthcare in Cleveland, Tenn., sewed up nine puncture wounds totaling nearly 6 inches in length on the night of April 16, when Lipps said Bradley County deputies launched the dog at him while he stood unresisting, hands in the air.
Lipps said one or more deputies piled on after the dog took him to the floor, pummeling his head and ribs. At Tennova's emergency room, doctors ordered CT scans of his skull and upper spine to check for bone or nerve injuries. They found none but noted a large bruise on his forehead, his medical records show.
And then, even though his injuries happened at the hands and in the custody of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office, Tennova sent him the $11,000 bill.
Lipps and his family believe the forceful arrest was his punishment for getting away from law officers earlier that day. They also believe — and state law agrees — the sheriff's office should bear the cost of his medical treatment.
Lipps retained Chattanooga attorney Robin Flores, who said he is looking into the use of force by Bradley officers.
GL: Hey buddy I need to talk to you please msg me asap.
EW: How are you doing
GL: : Been better man I’m coming to turn myself in just needed some time to get my lawyer paid
EW: Let me know when and I’ll meet you personally and no one else
EW: I came there earlier and told them to leave everyone else out of it.
GL: Eric you know me I’m not bad people just messed up and I have to pay for it no one else but I have to get this lawyer paid its no one else place and they can’t afford it I’ll promise you my self I’ll do the right thing I’m about 800 away from having it I was trying to sell my car to finish paying for it I told my sister to tell your wife a couple off weeks ago.
EW: I agree, you are a good person and I’ll help you as much as I can, but if you meet me this evening. I can stop the officers from taking out new warrants on you for today and I’ll personally will fill out your paperwork and say that you turned yourself in to me. Ill also ask the owner of the bonding company to drop the paperwork on your family that signed your bond paperwork but if you wait until tomorrow .. it will be too late. . I will also keep your friends that helping you out of trouble…
GL: No one is helping me Eric what am I charged with anyways I’m looking at alot of time Ihave to have a laywer without one I’m over with for a long time and maybe if I have one but that’s not a chance I want to take but I will anyways I seen that you took my car and Bridget’s she had nothing to do with any of this and really no ideal y’all was looking for me so if you want me give the cars back and I’ll come to you
EW: I don’t know anything about your cars we didn’t take your cars your car is on private property. We have no use for your cars we don’t want them. You just need to find out what company they called to tow your cars and pick them up no one from law-enforcement has a hold on your vehicle and has no reason to hold them. If you don’t want to except my offer that’s fine however just trying to help you And just trying to save a lot of trouble for your loved ones. Again we did not tell them you need to contact the owner of the property.
Asked for the department's account of the arrest, sheriff's office spokesman Lt. James Bradford forwarded reports filed by deputies stating that Lipps hid from deputies, refused commands to come out and tried to fight the K-9.
Asked whether the sheriff's office acknowledged that it should pay Lipps' medical bills for injuries incurred during the arrest, Bradford said via email, "Answering the above question in entirety could potentially violate" federal patient privacy protection laws.
The Times Free Press reported in July about the manhunt for Lipps, who failed to show up for court on nonviolent drug charges and thus put the $2,000 bond written by Sheriff Eric Watson's wife, Tenille, in danger of forfeiture.
On that Easter Sunday morning, Watson set out in his official sheriff's office vehicle with his wife and another bonding agent to track down Lipps and take him to jail on a felony warrant for failure to appear on the drug charges. He also had a felony warrant in Polk County for not paying child support.
Computer-aided dispatch records and audio from Bradley 911 recount how the hours-long chase around Spring Place Road drew in seven Bradley officers and two dogs; two deputies in Polk County, Tenn.; two in Murray County, Ga., deputies and a Georgia State Patrol trooper. That hunt included Sheriff Watson's gunpoint takedown of another driver — who had no connection to Lipps — across the state line in Georgia. After a little more than three fruitless hours, the search was called off.
As it turned out, even while the hunt was going on, Lipps was exchanging Facebook messages with Watson about turning himself in.
In an interview at the Polk County Jail, Lipps told the Times Free Press he evaded the manhunt and caught a ride to his ex-wife's house on Gatlin Road. He said he wanted to say goodbye to his children and then surrender.
With Lipps' permission, his family gave the Times Free Press the Facebook messages between him and Watson, including this exchange, transcribed as written:
Lipps: "Eric you know me I'm not bad people just messed up and I have to pay for it no one else but I have to get this lawyer paid its no one else place and they can't afford it I'll promise you my self I'll do the right thing I'm about 800 away from having it I was trying to sell my car to finish paying for it I told my sister to tell your wife a couple off weeks ago."
Watson: "I agree, you are a good person and I'll help you as much as I can, but if you meet me this evening. I can stop the officers from taking out new warrants on you for today and I'll personally will fill out your paperwork and say that you turned yourself in to me. I'll also ask the owner of the bonding company to drop the paperwork on your family that signed your bond paperwork but if you wait until tomorrow .. it will be too late. . I will also keep your friends that helping you out of trouble"
Lipps never did tell the sheriff where he was, but his sister gave the information to Tenille Watson. Lipps said that when he saw the posse of sheriff's cars and Watson's Chevrolet Tahoe pile into the driveway a little after 6 p.m., he sent his ex-wife and kids outside because "I knowed it was going to be bad."
He said he was standing in the bedroom with his hands up when the deputies entered into the house, ordered him forward and unclipped the K-9's leash.
"When the dog bit me I hit the ground. Then they stomped me pretty good," he said.
The report forwarded by Bradford said Lipps was hiding, and when the dog was loosed he punched it and tried to grab it by the head and neck. His medical records, however, didn't show any bites or scratches on his hands or arms.
Asked about Lipps' claim deputies assaulted him, Bradford said: "To my knowledge, our agency has NEVER received an official complaint regarding excessive force during Gary Lipps' arrest." If there had been an official complaint, he added, "our agency would investigate those serious allegations."
Lipps remembers seeing Tenille Watson outside the house. He said Eric Watson didn't come into the house but came over and spoke to him as he sat bleeding in a patrol car, waiting for an ambulance.
The Times Free Press requested dashcam videos of the events on Gatlin Road under the Tennessee Open Records Act. The sheriff's office said there were none, even though it turned over three dashcam videos from the morning manhunt that involved the same Bradley County officers. There was no explanation why the officers would have video from one site but not another.
Lipps went to Tennova Healthcare handcuffed and escorted by a deputy, and four hours later to the Bradley County Jail. But the Payor Name line on his medical admission form says "Self Pay" rather than Bradley County Sheriff's Office, and the bill went to his home.
State law says the sheriff's office must provide medical treatment for prisoners, either through in-house medical staff or at a hospital. It's a huge budget burden; before the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the department transferred money from other line items such as uniforms and equipment into the medical line.
In the jail interview, Lipps said, "I told the hospital to bill the sheriff's office, but the nurse said it's up to the sheriff's office."
In a July 30 story, the Times Free Press noted a two-hour gap from the time Deputy Jared Burnette, who escorted the ambulance, left Tennova and when another officer picked Lipps up for the trip to jail.
In a separate interview, Lipps' mother, Annette Hannah, said, "It was told to us that's why they left him unattended at the hospital and went to pick him up later, so they wouldn't have to pay the bill."
Watson told the Cleveland Daily Banner that a Sgt. Jamie Thurman was at Tennova guarding Lipps, but audio recordings of sheriff's office radio calls that night don't show him arriving at or leaving the hospital.
Bradford said Thurman told him he went to the hospital and stayed there until Lipps was released. He also said "there are occasions when events are not logged into the [computer-aided dispatch system] at the 911 Center for various reasons."
"However, I can tell you that our agency maintained custody of Gary Lipps during his entire visit at Tennova Hospital on April 16, 2017," Bradford said.
The Times Free Press previously has reported instances where records show or families say the sheriff's office turned away arrestees with medical problems. Sources in the sheriff's office and Cleveland police department, who asked for anonymity in earlier stories because they're not authorized to speak on the issue, said part of the reason was an interdepartmental feud about which agency has to pay the hospital bills for sick or injured prisoners.
On March 1, Bradley jail officials refused to accept two heavily intoxicated men, telling arresting Cleveland police officers the men needed medical treatment before they safely could be locked up. The officers dropped the men at Tennova and went back on patrol, and there was no record they were ever booked into the jail.
On the evening of March 14, Cleveland police took Thomas Cheek to jail on theft, shoplifting and drug possession charges. A police incident report says he complained of cellulitis in his legs before booking and went in an ambulance to a local hospital. He walked away the same night and disappeared. He was found shot to death March 23.
Cheek's mother, Kitty Cheek, told the Times Free Press earlier: "What I don't understand is this was the second or third time the jail refused him. They knew he would leave the hospital, he left the last time. Why didn't they leave an officer with him?"
On March 28, jailers turned away a man with a cut on his arm brought in on a felony burglary warrant. Bodycam video showed Cleveland officers made several futile attempts to turn the man over for booking, but jail officials insisted the officers take him to the hospital. Eventually the officers uncuffed the burglary suspect and set him free right in the jail's sally port.
Court records show Lipps pleaded guilty to his Bradley charges of possessing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, and is serving his sentence for nonsupport in the Polk County Jail.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6416.