Two Hamilton County commissioners call for detective involved in viral beating to be fired

Kevin Muhammad speaks next to attorney S. Lee Merritt and his client Charles Toney Jr., to left, during a news conference at the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Courts Building on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. In the news conference, Merritt called for the firing of Hamilton County sheriff's deputies who were filmed punching and kicking Toney and for the district attorney's office to drop criminal charges against him.

Two Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday joined the chorus of voices calling for the firing of a white county deputy seen on videotape beating and kicking a handcuffed black man.

Commissioner Warren Mackey hosted a group of local residents who delivered a powerful message of protest to commissioners after their voting session.

The group included two NAACP leaders and Minister Kevin Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. They filled half the seats in the commission room and watched as Mackey had the video played on the big screen above the commission dais.

A bystander filmed part of the the Dec. 3 incident in which Hamilton County Sheriff's Office detective Blake Kilpatrick manhandled Charles Toney to the ground during an arrest, then punched and kicked him. After the video went viral, Sheriff Jim Hammond placed Kilpatrick on desk duty and District Attorney Neal Pinkston asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

On Tuesday, the state dismissed charges of assault, resisting arrest and tampering with evidence against the 25-year-old rapper, whose stage name is Interstate Tax. His supporters said his injuries included a collapsed lung, broken ribs and a fractured finger and nose.

Mackey called the video "very disturbing" and the beating "inhumane."

"We've spent thousands of dollars in training officers in terms of how to subdue citizens," he said. "Whenever a person is arrested and they have a set of handcuffs on there's a whole different set of rules that apply."

"I think all of us are very disturbed at what we saw and the officer who beat on this man," Mackey added. "I'm going to ask and demand that the Hamilton County sheriff fire that man. On the face of what we saw, he didn't follow the rules."

Mackey also said the sheriff's office has only one black patrol officer, and that most of its black employees work in the county jail.

Dwight Smith, political action chairman of the NAACP, said firing and prosecuting Kilpatrick "is one way to show the communities that we want to bridge the gaps in this city and we just can't tolerate this kind of abuse to a citizen."

Brandon Woodruff, who recently was a candidate for the House District 28 seat in the Tennessee General Assembly, read a lengthy statement linking the Toney case to other local and national cases of police violence and challenging commissioners to act.

"Open your eyes," Woodruff said. "The story of our generation, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, from Freddie Gray to Philando Castile, Rodney King to Brother Charles Toney, is that this is a system that has a culture of allowing these kinds of injustices and abuses to go unanswered and unaddressed, without consequences to those who inflict these types of actions."

As a local community, he said, "we stand up for fair and transparent investigation in order for there to be accountability in this incident. We stand up for the full removal of Deputy Blake Kilpatrick and all those who participated in this despicable and malicious act of ruthless aggression."

Audience member April Wilson said she is a social worker and she's had to learn to do her work in the face of other people's expectations and misconceptions. The same standard should apply to officers, Wilson said.

"How can we raise the standard, raise the bar, and really allow people to feel like, when a law enforcement officer is behind me in a vehicle or when I have to make a phone call to get help, that I can trust that I'm getting quality service? That I can trust that the oath that they took is going to supersede any implicit bias, any misunderstanding, any lack of communication, anything?"

Commissioner Katherlyn Geter also called for Kilpatrick's firing, and commended "Brandon and the other young people" for focusing attention on Toney's beating.

"I do stand with them. I want that stated," Geter said. "I stand with my community because this does directly affect me, whether I'm elected or I'm not elected."

As a black woman with two sons, she said, watching the video was upsetting.

"I could easily have imagined myself in this situation; I easily could have imagined my son Jack and Austin, my baby, in that situation," she said.

She pointed to the results of the vote earlier Wednesday, when a focused campaign of resistance by Ooltewah-area homeowners resulted in commissioners voting down a proposed sewage treatment plant in their neighborhood.

"I'm asking, don't turn your back. I need this chamber filled with our people. If we're going to seek the change that we need to no longer have this narrative written in our community, then we can't turn our backs, we have to stand up and we have to be present now and forever more," Geter said.

Hammond sat in the front row with the group but didn't speak. Afterward, he told reporters he can't summarily fire the officer but must let the investigation and disciplinary processes play out.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.