Officer reprimanded for allegedly choking suspect

Officer reprimanded for allegedly choking suspect

July 30th, 2009 by Jacqueline Koch in News

Although a police supervisor was given only a written reprimand for allegedly choking a handcuffed suspect, Chattanooga police Chief Freeman Cooper said he does not consider any discipline to be light.

"I don't look at the discipline as being a slap on the wrist," the chief said. "A police officer's goal is to go through his or her career without any type of discipline."

Chief Cooper ordered that Sgt. Jonathan Bryant be given a written reprimand after an investigation determined he improperly used force and failed to fill out a use-of-force form.

The Chattanooga Police Department internal affairs division investigated Sgt. Bryant, a fugitive division supervisor, after receiving a complaint that the sergeant choked a man on June 30 after the man was handcuffed and seated in the back of a patrol car.

Capt. Mike Mathis, head of internal affairs, recommended that the allegations against Sgt. Bryant be sustained, according to the internal affairs case recommendation.

"The Chattanooga Police Department does not 'teach' any officer to place their hands around the throat of a suspect," Capt. Mathis wrote. "To the contrary, the Chattanooga Police Department teaches 'not' to take such an action because this type of action can cause 'death.'"

Chief Cooper said many factors are considered when determining discipline. In Sgt. Bryant's case, he took into account that another officer reported the incident and not the man who allegedly was choked. The victim's story also varied when interviewed two separate times by police, Chief Cooper said.

Sgt. Bryant did not have a history of sustained violations, according to his file.

He did not return messages seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

"Jonathan Bryant is a good police officer and has been a good supervisor, and he just made a bad choice in this incident," Chief Cooper said.

The fugitive division was serving a warrant on Christopher Pugh on June 30, and officers found him inside Harry's convenience store at 4301 Norcross Road. They handcuffed him in the store and led him to a patrol car.

Sgt. Bryant told internal affairs investigators that once Mr. Pugh was in the patrol car, the officer placed his hand on Mr. Pugh's neck to prevent him from spitting, according to an internal affairs investigation report.

"I squeezed hard enough to get his attention and hopefully he wouldn't spit," Sgt. Bryant told investigators.

PDF: Letter of reprimand

POLICY ON USING FORCE

"Officers shall, except in exigent circumstances, use only the equipment and/or techniques for which he or she is trained and certified by the department."

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

Mr. Pugh was cooperative until handcuffs were placed on his wrists and he was pushed into the patrol car, at which time he became verbally aggressive and resistant, Sgt. Bryant told investigators.

Mr. Pugh cleared his throat as though he was about to spit, Sgt. Bryant said, but did not make any verbal threats about doing so. The sergeant said he placed his hand around Mr. Pugh's neck for a "few seconds" and that Mr. Pugh never lost consciousness.

Mr. Pugh told internal affairs investigators he was being verbally combative while being escorted to the patrol car. When he was seated in the car, Sgt. Bryant reached in, grabbed him by his Adam's apple and squeezed for 30 to 45 seconds until he couldn't breathe, Mr. Pugh told investigators.

It was "enough to where I could feel my eyes watering, to where I'm needing breath," Mr. Pugh told investigators, adding that he was choked again but didn't see who did it.

The car in which the incident occurred did not have video surveillance.

In connection with the June 30 incident, Mr. Pugh pleaded guilty in Hamilton County General Sessions Court on July 9 to assault on police, civil rights intimidation, driving on a revoked license and criminal impersonation.