A group of Hamilton County pastors called Monday for the immediate resignation of Sheriff Jim Hammond and two of his deputies seen in dashcam footage punching, kneeing and what might be body cavity searching a handcuffed black man.
"There is just one word to you today, Sheriff Hammond," said Timothy Careathers, senior pastor and teacher of the Westside Missionary Baptist Church. "Resign. And before you resign, don't forget to fire deputy Daniel Wilkey and Bobby Brewer."
Flanked by nearly 50 men, women and other ministers outside of the sheriff's office on Market Street, Careathers said Hammond's support of the deputies, who are on paid administrative leave while under criminal investigation, contributes to a corrupt culture that "continues to deny the basic humanity of the black citizens that he should be protecting." He cited the 2018 in-custody death of Devonte Allison, the 2018 video of a 25-year-old handcuffed black man being punched and kicked by detective Blake Kilpatrick, and comments Hammond made in 2012 saying that gang members either need to be run out of town, put in jail or sent to the funeral home.
The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled Allison's death was caused by complications from sickle cell disease.
Careathers' comments follow dashcam video District Attorney General Neal Pinkston recently released that showed deputies Wilkey and Brewer handcuffing James Mitchell Jr. for drug possession during a traffic stop in Soddy-Daisy on July 11, punching and kicking the 41-year-old, taking off his pants, and probing around his genitals and buttocks for further contraband and weapons. The deputies are now on paid administrative leave and being investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Pinkston's office.
It's not the only call for Hammond to act: Last week community members gathered at the Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church and called for the sheriff since 2008 to resign. Other community members suggested a community oversight board to handle alleged law enforcement misconduct and brutality during last week's commission meeting. And Hamilton County-Chattanooga NAACP President Elenora Woods said the organization is planning a local protest.
But Hammond said he isn't going anywhere. He said the deputies are entitled to due process and fair treatment under civil service laws while their investigations are pending. He added that video footage can be interpreted differently by different people, particularly non-law enforcement citizens who may not understand the precautions on-scene deputies take to make it home safely, or what it's like making people comply. And he previously said he stands by the officers' training, particularly when approaching a man who admitted to using marijuana and has prior charges on his record.
"What the Department of Justice will be looking at, what the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will be looking at, [is] did these officers follow their training? Number two, did the subject remain compliant? Number three, was there probable cause to go beyond just a normal pat-down search in either looking for weapons or looking for contraband?" Hammond said. "For you to simply turn on five seconds of video, 10 seconds of video, and livestream it and suddenly decide you know everything that happened, and that officers need to be fired and sheriffs need to resign, that's crazy. That's ridiculous."
The video Pinkston's office released is longer than 10 seconds. And others say the deputies did not follow their training: Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP attorney Robin Flores, who is representing Mitchell and his passenger, Latisha Menifee, who was also handcuffed and allegedly threatened to be silent, said the deputies conducted a body cavity search and compared their behavior to aggravated rape.
Hamilton County Sheriff's Office policy defines a body cavity search as "an inspection, probing or examination of the inside of a person's anus, vagina or genitals for the purpose of determining whether such person is concealing evidence of a criminal offense, a weapon, a controlled substance or other contraband." The issue, Flores and the ministers said Monday, is state law says a body cavity search can be conducted only with a search warrant or written consent, and it must be performed by licensed nurses or physicians.
In response, Hammond said he has watched the footage of Mitchell's search in slow motion and concluded it was not a body cavity search. But he also said he would let the courts decide. Although deputies say they found small amounts of marijuana and crack cocaine on Mitchell, prosecutors have dismissed all of Mitchell's charges from the arrest, which is not uncommon in an alleged brutality case.
Incidentally, video of a different incident posted Sunday night on Facebook showed a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer pulling Kiyara Estes, a 19-year-old black woman, out of the passenger seat of a car her white girlfriend, Maddie Powell, was driving. According to court documents, the officer pulled the vehicle over for traveling 92 mph on Interstate 75. He asked Powell if Estes had told her to speed, went to the passenger's side and asked Estes for her identification, said NAACP President Elenora Woods, who spoke with the girlfriend's family.
But Estes didn't have identification, and her license had been revoked as a result of a previous accident, Woods said. He then told Estes she was under arrest and to get out of the car. When Estes asked for what, the officer pulled her by her braids, Woods said.
John Harmon, a spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, said the organization takes allegations against its officers very seriously and is investigating the arrest. Harmon said he has seen the Facebook video but added the officer in question does not have dashcam or body-worn camera footage available since he was on a motorcycle.
Estes is scheduled to appear Aug. 7 before Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Alex McVeagh.
Contact Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.