Defense attorney: Substance abuse disorder likely a factor in choking case [video]

This screenshot of the footage taken by a police bodycam shows the moment when an East Ridge police officer wrapped his arm around Christopher Penn's neck in an attempt to subdue him during an Oct. 21, 2018, arrest. Critics have called the move excessive and a potentially deadly use of force. Police maintain the officer used a "lateral vascular neck restraint," which does not restrict a person's ability to breathe and is considered safer than a traditional chokehold.

A Chattanooga man who says East Ridge police officers choked him unconscious and stunned him during a recent arrest has hired a criminal defense attorney well known for suing local law enforcement agencies.

Robin Flores said Tuesday he is representing Chris Penn in his criminal case in East Ridge City Court, where the 27-year-old is accused of misusing 911 and then assaulting two police officers around 4 a.m. on Oct. 21. Flores said a substance abuse disorder "may have been the driving force" behind his client's response to officers that night. Flores previously described the officers' reactions, though, as excessive and said he is continuing to investigate the incident.

"It looks like it's going to be a diminished capacity kind of defense," Flores said Tuesday. "The man was not in his right mind and that's, in essence, it. We suspect that medical proof will indicate that substance abuse disorder may have been the driving force behind his force to officers."

Assistant Police Chief Stan Allen, who is running the department while Chief J.R. Reed is being investigated for policy violations, previously described the choking and stunning as "necessary force" and said his officers followed policy and weren't disciplined.

The Times Free Press previously reported Penn called 911 on himself around 4 a.m. on Oct. 21, said he'd taken pills and claimed the mother of one of his children had let strangers into a home who wanted to kill him. Five officers came to the 6100 block of Welworth Avenue, separated Penn from his child, put him in handcuffs and led him to a patrol car outside. After Penn tried to run, kicking at and thrashing at them, one officer put a Taser to his groin for five seconds and another jerked him completely off the ground in what experts have described as an armbar choke hold across his windpipe.

Penn appeared to struggle breathing before passing out in body camera footage the Times Free Press obtained through a records request. Officers then loaded him into a patrol car and drove him to the hospital, less than half a mile away.

In previous interviews, Penn said he couldn't recall what happened that night, admitted to being under the influence but said it didn't excuse the excessive force used on him. Though law enforcement advocates say officers need a quick way to stop people who are violent or resisting, medical experts caution choke holds and other neck restraints are banned in many departments because they're potentially lethal and can cause brain damage if a person's breathing is cut off for too long.

East Ridge's department previously had a policy against using choke holds on fleeing suspects. But the department's current policy, enacted in 2015, doesn't mention chokeholds or neck restraints.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.