Chattanooga City Council debates legality of member's proposed police investigation, charter amendment

Councilor Demetrus Coonrod speaks during a meeting in the Chattanooga City Council chamber on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. A proposed $263.8 million city budget for fiscal year 2020 includes funding for infrastructure upgrades.

Chattanooga City Council members toiled Tuesday over Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod's request to investigate the Chattanooga Police Department's internal affairs division and pass a referendum to amend the city's charter to provide the council the authority to fire various executives, including the police chief.

At Tuesday afternoon's strategic planning meeting, Coonrod reintroduced an idea she floated last week to investigate the city's Internal Affairs division in the wake of an investigation into rape allegations against former Chattanooga police officer Desmond Logan. That probe uncovered a potential link to retired Assistant Chief Edwin McPherson and retired Capt. Pedro Bacon in a potential cover-up.

Last week, Coonrod called for her colleagues to initiate personnel investigations into at least five other officials who held positions in or related to the police Internal Affairs division at the time of the alleged incidents and investigation. Some still hold those positions. This week, Coonrod more sweepingly called for a general investigation of internal affairs, clarifying that she did not necessarily believe the officers she named last week, including current chief David Roddy, had been involved in the apparent cover-up.

"The whole internal affairs department needs to be investigated, because we often, more than often, get these complaints after the fact of even though paperwork is turned in, it is deleted, overlooked or nobody does anything with that information, and then a year later we're finding out," Coonrod said of police brutality, rape allegations and other personnel complaints. "I have an issue with the fact the police department is overlooking these complaints."

City Attorney Phil Noblett informed Coonrod that the council did not have the authority to call for such an investigation, but did have the authority to put a charter amendment up for a vote.

"I think the key is to create some stability in our community," Councilman Anthony Byrd added, suggesting the investigation be done by the recently approved police oversight committee. "This council and this body, a lot of times, hears that the police have no oversight and think that's why we came up with the oversight committee, so maybe that would be a task for them to start out this board that we're putting together should start to go through files and things that are going on with certain or all of the officers."

Councilman Jerry Mitchell was concerned that the oversight committee lacked the authority to conduct such an investigation.

"What I thought I was hearing was 'Let's get this oversight board out investigating,'" Mitchell said. My recollection on what I voted on was a review board. Not 'Let's go out and start opening files and investigating folks.'"

Coonrod said if the council or review board cannot conduct or order an investigation, the council can instruct Noblett to order a comptroller audit of the division.

"We can do it one way or the other," she said.

Byrd seconded Coonrod's request to have Noblett look into and draft a proper charter amendment.

In the last two minutes of the meeting, Councilman Darrin Ledford left the room, saying, "This is ridiculous."

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.