Chattanooga City Council members leave meeting after public protests over filmed arrest, beating [video]

Chattanooga City Council members walked out mid-meeting Tuesday, Dec. 11, amid protests about a white Hamilton County detective seen in a video punching and kicking a handcuffed black man during an arrest.

Chattanooga City Council members walked out of Tuesday evening's meeting after protests erupted over the arrest of local rapper Charles Toney, who was recently shown in a viral video being punched and kicked by a Hamilton County Sheriff's Office detective as he wore handcuffs.

After a long list of regular agenda items, Council Vice Chairman Erskine Oglesby acknowledged the protesters with a statement and pointed out that the situation is a county one and not within the purview of the city council.

"I want everybody to know that we, as a council, believe and feel that this is unacceptable behavior and we are appalled and incensed by it," he said. "And by no stretch of the imagination do you think we tolerate that kind of behavior."

"You have, though," one protester interrupted.

"It's important to note that ... this is a Hamilton County sheriff matter," Oglesby continued, despite repeated interruptions. "That is where the jurisdiction ultimately lies. That does not mean that we care any less about it or we will not be involved in this."

Oglesby said the council members will stay engaged and hope to remain informed about the investigation.

"We expect that ... wherever the evidence lies, that justice is handled. That's all we can thoroughly expect. We, as a council, share your concerns," he said as protesters' voices drowned out his words.

"No justice, no peace!" protesters chanted, wielding large cardboard cutouts of Toney's hip-hop album cover.

Council members stood up from their chairs and waited for the crowd to calm down, and Councilman Anthony Byrd tried to engage a few protesters in conversation.

But the crowd grew louder, calling for community control of law enforcement and calling out controversial cases, including that of Unjolee Moore, whose advocates say was wrongfully convicted in a 2010 murder case.

Ultimately, all council members walked out and did not return for the night.

Many protesters remained in the council meeting room even after council members left, still chanting. Emotions ran high both inside and outside city hall, with one woman visibly upset and crying.

"We want justice," said Christopher Torregano, who knows Toney and calls himself a local activist. " For us to not be treated as human beings, that's not OK, especially being in the Confederate South, where we can walk on the same Walnut Street Bridge where we used to hang from."

Torregano said he felt "utterly disrespected" that council members walked out.

"To hear the voices of the people, you have to care enough to stick around and listen," he said. " You want to make a difference, you have to take the punches. You've got to go through the hardships."

No council members returned requests for comment after Tuesday's meeting, despite calls to their personal phones.

The minute-long viral video that prompted the protests shows Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Detective Blake Kilpatrick taking Toney, 24, to the ground, dragging him by his shirt and punching him at least six times before kicking him at least once.

"I got a collapsed lung, broken finger, broken nose, and broken ribs," Toney wrote in a Dec. 8 Facebook post.

Toney declined further comment and referred reporters to his attorney, Lee Merrit, a nationally known civil rights attorney. Merrit could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

The sheriff's office turned Toney's case over to Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston's office, which then referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the meantime, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond called for an internal affairs investigation and placed Kilpatrick, who has been with the sheriff's office for about 10 years, on what he called "desk duty."

While Hammond said Monday that he did not think Kilpatrick had any previous use of force complaints, a $40 million lawsuit filed earlier this year names Kilpatrick as one of the deputies involved in the shooting death of Christopher Dalton Sexton, 29, who was killed after leading police on a car chase in 2017.

The pursuit crossed county lines as Sexton drove between Hamilton and Sequatchie counties, according to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report.

Sexton's vehicle was forced off the roadway by a deputy as the pursuit turned onto Sequoyah Road and Sexton exited his vehicle, brandishing a weapon and pointing it at officers. Several deputies fired at him, striking and killing him at the scene.

The lawsuit alleges Sexton never posed a threat to the public or deputies and those deputies were wrong to kill him. The lawsuit claims that, rather than pointing a firearm at authorities, Sexton "exited his vehicle and began moving away from law enforcement, with his back to law enforcement."

It goes on to state that deputies shot at Christopher Sexton more than 40 times, hitting him six times in the back and multiple times in the back of his buttocks and legs, as well as both sides of his torso, the Times Free Press reported previously.

It also states that after shooting him to death, deputies handcuffed him, "so tightly and aggressively that the handcuffs dug and cut into Deceased skin on his wrists."

The case is at a standstill until new representatives of Sexton's estate file the proper pleadings with the court to be recognized as the administrators of the estate.

A spokesperson for the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office said the case was referred to the TBI, which ruled the shooting was justified.

Another federal lawsuit was filed in July 2013, alleging Kilpatrick used excessive force with a man, causing him to be sent to a local hospital and receive six staples for a head injury.

An internal affairs investigation ultimately exonerated Kilpatrick, and the federal complaint was closed in February 2015 after a judge ruled in favor of the officer.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.