Cook: Chattanooga police use of force

Cook: Chattanooga police use of force

March 1st, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

They could have handcuffed him. Several times.

Like when he's on the ground, after the sixth or seventh time they struck him, so hard the officer with the black baton is out of breath.

Or moments later, after more hits from the baton -- a point comes when one loses count -- and he's curled up, in some fetal way, crying that his leg is broken.

They could have handcuffed him.

So why didn't they?

Put together, the two officers, muscles ballooning out of their short-sleeve uniforms, probably weigh 400 pounds.

The man on the ground with the broken leg? Couldn't be more than 170, tops.

Yeah, he'd had a knife, which was quickly taken from him.

Sure, he was an inmate, arrested for assault charges.

And being a cop on the midnight shift ain't Easy Street.

But police are trained and taught -- and retrained, retaught -- to match their response with the threat before them.

Which is exactly what officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley did not do.

Last June, officers came to arrest Adam Tatum, 37, from the federal halfway house at the Salvation Army for allegedly causing a disturbance. In a span of 12 minutes, Cooley and Emmer provide textbook behavior on what not to do.

Just watch the video.

It is violent and raw, enough so that the two officers were fired by Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd.

The imagery alone -- white officers beating a black man -- is inflammatory. And hauntingly relevant, appearing in the Times Free Press on the same day Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says many in this land fear a black president, and miles away in Washington, the Supreme Court may decide that parts of the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary.

For all the video's violence, it is equally important to discuss what should have happened.

Like departments across the country, the CPD follows a use-of-force continuum policy, spelled out by the National Institute of Justice.

Someone pulls a knife on you? You pull a gun (can't you hear Sean Connery in "The Untouchables'' right now?)

You match the threat with a suitable response. Tatum, who did little more than lie on the ground, should have never seen a baton that night, much less have had both legs fractured by one.

Officers are taught to use their attitudes, voice and demeanor to defuse, calm, soften. In the beginning, no force. If the heat increases, then turn calm words into shouted commands.

(Within seconds of getting near him, an officer put Tatum in a chokehold, a move not endorsed or taught by CPD.)

If the threat remains, the officer is taught to engage with his or her body through a technique called empty-hand-control.

Grabs, holds, joint locks.

And harder stuff: punches, kicks, but never to the head or face. (Cooley hits Tatum on the face with his fist.)

Following this: less-lethal methods like a Taser, pepper spray or batons.

At the top of the use-of-force continuum: lethal force. Drawing one's sidearm. A last resort.

Tatum never does what they ask him to do: roll over, hands behind back and so on. At one point, he appears in survival mode, and may not even hear them.

In their rogueness, Cooley and Emmer redlined it; they go medieval on Tatum, matching passive resistance with heavy blows.

So if they are trained -- and trained, and trained -- to do the exact opposite, why did Cooley and Emmer act this way?

Maybe someone will ask them that question in the days to come. Like when they appear before an administrative law judge.


Cooley and Emmer are trying to get their jobs back.