Hamilton County District Attorney's Office sets up hotline to report police brutality

Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston

After recent allegations of police brutality by local law enforcement officers, the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office has set up a hotline for local residents to share their complaints.

In a statement Wednesday, the office said it has received several videos that have prompted investigations of possible excessive use of force. The incidents occurred at traffic stops and other locations where citizens were in police custody.

In one recent video that came to light on July 11, two white Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies are seen in dashcam footage punching, kicking and stripping the pants off of a handcuffed black man who they allegedly subjected to a roadside search of his genital and buttocks areas.

Both deputies are on paid administrative leave. The district attorney's office is investigating and has asked the Tennessee Department of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the case. Gov. Bill Lee's legal counsel also has been notified.

"As the investigations of those incidents proceed, I believe we need to find out if these are isolated incidents or if there is a systemic problem," District Attorney Neal Pinkston said in a news release.

Pinkston said that, in setting up the hotline, his office has to strike a balance between supporting law enforcement and private citizens, the release states.

"It is our responsibility to not only prosecute the guilty, but to protect the innocent," he said. "If an officer has abused his or her authority in this county, we want to know about it."

Pinkston said he will review each complaint with assistance from an assistant district attorney and an investigator in his office, the release states.

"I want to make it clear that we fully support all law enforcement agencies in Hamilton County," he said. "We work with them every day and they do an outstanding job keeping us safe. However, if one or two police officers abuses their authority, we will take action against that officer."

Sheriff Jim Hammond has defended his deputies, saying they are entitled to due process and fair treatment under laws that protect government employees 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 having to make people comply. He previously said he stands by the officers' training, particularly when approaching a man who they say admitted to using marijuana and has prior charges on his record.

But local residents say more oversight is needed if anything is to change. Some, including local pastors, have even called for Hammond to resign.

Anyone who believes they have been a victim of excessive force on the part of law enforcement officers is asked to call the hotline at 423-209-7480. Complaints can also be emailed to excessiveforce@hcdatn.org.