Chattanooga public housing residents want federal probe of police

Chattanooga public housing residents want federal probe of police

June 29th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Joyce Hardwick, left, points to the door to indicate her distance from police officers while giving testimony in Judge Clarence Shattuck's Hamilton County Sessions courtroom in Chattanooga on Thursday. Hardwick is charged with disorderly conduct, but claims she is innocent and that police used excessive force and derogatory language during her arrest.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Westside Community Association will meets to discuss complaints about police at 6 p.m. Thursday at Renaissance Presbyterian Church, 1211 Boynton Drive.

Residents who live in the city's largest public housing site say some Chattanooga Housing Authority and city police officers are physically and verbally abusive, and the residents are calling for the federal government to conduct an investigation.

"They treat us like we're dogs," said 45-year-old Joyce Hardwick.

The mother of five knocked door to door at College Hill Courts to get more than 100 signatures from residents and their guests on a petition. The document states that police officers employed by the city and part-time by CHA have used racial epithets and derogatory terms, physically manhandled them and threatened to have them evicted.

The Rev. Leroy Griffith, president of the Westside Community Association, said he mailed the petition to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last Saturday.

Less than a year ago, a separate petition signed by more than 60 residents and their guests of the East Lake Courts asked CHA to fire some police officers for mistreating people in the complex.

HUD responded that CHA police did nothing wrong, but housing authority officials later said they would train police officers on how better to communicate with residents.

CHA Police Chief Felix Vess did not respond to questions emailed by the Times Free Press this week and could not be reached by phone.

On Thursday, Hardwick was in Hamilton County General Sessions Court to plead her case in a disorderly conduct charge dating from April 10. Judge Clarence Shattuck sent the case to the Hamilton County grand jury.

Hardwick testified that after her arrest, she complained to Chattanooga Police Department Internal Affairs Capt. Susan Blaine. Hardwick said she mentioned several officers who were involved, but Blaine wrote a letter naming only arresting officer Adam Cooley concerning the results of the investigation.

Blaine said in the June 15 letter that Hardwick's claims of police using excessive force and making an improper arrest were unfounded.

Cooley testified Thursday that Hardwick was so disorderly during a search involving two of her sons in the 1100 block of Carter Street that she interfered with his investigation.

"She was yelling and cursing at us, saying she was going to call our sergeant," Cooley testified. "Eventually it came to the point where I had to stop searching all of these other folks and go over there. ... I said, 'Joyce, listen to me. I don't care who you call. Go down the road and do it.'"

Cooley said it seemed she was trying to draw his attention away from one of her sons and the other people being searched. He testified that he later learned her son had a bag with marijuana, crack cocaine and powder cocaine stuffed down in his pants. The son was arrested.

Hardwick testified that she never cursed or disrespected any of the police officers on the scene. She said one officer twisted her arm, threw her shoulder down onto the car and used vulgar language when he told her to hang up her cellphone.

"He slammed me on the police car. He kicked between my legs. He threw my legs open," she testified. "That's what happened at that scene. Me disrespecting them, no. I didn't do none of that at all."

Hardwick said an assistant district attorney offered her a plea carrying a 30-day suspended jail sentence and $25 fine, but she refused because she said she wanted the video and audiotape of her arrest to be played in court.

"I know I'm innocent," Hardwick said.

Shattuck asked for audio of the incident, but Cooley said he had a new camera in his vehicle and didn't have the software on the computer, so he did not get audio. Cooley said he also did not have personal audio during the April 10 scene.

Although she didn't enter it in court, Hardwick has a written statement from Parkridge Medical Center stating that she has a wrist sprain and that she was given a splint to decrease her pain and keep the injured area from moving around.

The injury came as a result of the arrest, she said.

After the court hearing, Cooley declined to comment.

Follow the latest Chattanooga news on Facebook.