Federal judge denies city of Chattanooga's motion to dismiss lawsuit alleging rape by former Chattanooga police officer

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Attorney Sam Byrd and his client former Chattanooga police officer Desmond Logan walk across Georgia Avenue before entering the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Thursday, September 12, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Logan reached a plea agreement last week, in which he admitted to raping three women in his custody between 2015 and 2018 as well as shooting a Taser at a fourth woman.

A federal judge last month denied the city of Chattanooga's motion to dismiss a civil suit brought on by one of the women who have accused former Chattanooga police officer Desmond Logan of rape.

Logan, 34, admitted during a plea hearing in federal court to raping three women in his custody and using a Taser on a fourth woman in an isolated parking lot at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2016. He has been held in the Bradley County Jail while he awaits a sentencing hearing next month. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for two counts of deprivation of rights.

In the meantime, one of his accusers - a woman identified only as K.B. - has filed a federal civil suit against the city, claiming she was raped by Logan and then ignored when she tried to report the incident at Hamilton County Jail. Her attorneys - Christopher Smith, David Smith, Dominick Smith, W. Lyon Chadwick Jr. and Chad Phillips - additionally claim the police department knew of allegations of prior sexual misconduct, something for which they say the city is liable.

The lawsuit includes information first published by the Times Free Press detailing how two now-retired, high-ranking officers - Assistant Chief Edwin McPherson and Capt. Pedro Bacon - may have played a role in covering up years of rape allegations against Logan.

Police department officials reportedly believe McPherson and Bacon tried to suppress internal records and emailed about their attempts to cover up the accusations, sources previously told the Times Free Press.

But the city, in its motion to dismiss, claims it can't be held liable because the officials who allegedly knew of Logan's actions were not "policy makers."

"There is simply no allegation that either McPherson or Bacon had the required level of decision making authority required to impose liability on the city," city attorney Phillip Noblett wrote in the city's motion to dismiss.

Noblett argues that Bacon and McPherson, who are referred to as "clearly subordinate" officers, as well as Logan, could potentially be held liable as individuals. But the lawsuit only names the city of Chattanooga as a defendant, not its police department, Logan, Bacon or McPherson.

In order to sue the city, Noblett argues, K.B. would have to establish that the civil rights violation was a direct result of the city's official policy or custom. And to prove a custom, K.B. would have to show a clear, persistent pattern of illegal activity and that city officials were aware and did nothing to stop it. She failed to show that, Noblett claims.

U.S. District Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice disagreed.

Whether Bacon and McPherson were "actually policymakers is, at this stage, simply irrelevant," Mattice wrote in Dec. 5 order denying the motion to dismiss.

He agreed with the city that establishing a "custom" of inaction will be difficult, and even "repeated negligence or recklessness will not suffice." But at this stage of the lawsuit, it's too early to decide whether K.B. failed to prove her claim.

The court "must determine not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail," but whether the facts show "more than the mere possibility of misconduct," Mattice wrote. And K.B.'s allegations do lead to a "reasonable inference" that the city knew or should have known of Logan's repeated misconduct.

The city has denied that presumption.

"The City denies any knowledge of alleged past misconduct by Logan prior to the incident with KB and anticipates that the parties will now proceed with discovery in this suit which will bear out the City's position," Joe Kelly, assistant city attorney, wrote in an email Friday.

Additionally, Mattice said the city downplayed the UTC incident when it claimed that "[Logan's] actions were not overtly sexual but 'ambiguous and open to varying interpretations.'"

This early in the legal process, however, factual ambiguity "must be resolved in K.B.'s favor," he wrote.

K.B. was the most recent woman to accuse Logan of misconduct during his time on the force.

The accusations against Logan date back to early 2015, shortly after he joined the Chattanooga Police Department.

Only K.B. was included in the lawsuit because the statute of limitations has likely passed in the other cases, her attorneys have said, despite the women claiming to have notified authorities shortly after their incidents.

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