Hamilton County District Attorney closes investigation into Collegedale Police Department's alleged quota system

District attorney Neal Pinkston gives a statement following a sentencing hearing for Woodmore bus driver Johnthony Walker in Judge Don Poole's courtroom at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff photo by Doug Strickland

Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston has finished reviewing the investigation into Collegedale Police Department's alleged quota system, and while he acknowledges the city implemented standards that "can easily be construed to be quotas," he has decided to close the case without taking action.

In a letter to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Pinkston said his decision was based on evidence pointing to the standards being discontinued soon after being brought to light and because it's unclear how long the standards were in effect.

Collegedale city spokeswoman Bridgett Raper said Friday that "the City of Collegedale is proud of its police department" and pointed to a recent University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service review, which gave mostly positive feedback. It did not, however, address the alleged quota system due to the investigation. The service evaluated the department based on its employee satisfaction, the readiness of its equipment and the effectiveness of its training program.

"Our officers are justly proud of that report's conclusions," Raper said in an email. "To the extent the claims of an alleged quota affected public trust, the City hopes that the favorable findings by the TBI and District Attorney General Pinkston will do much to restore that trust."

In a Facebook post, Collegedale Mayor Katie Lamb said she is "proud of our police department."

The TBI had been investigating the traffic quota allegation since July, the same month a former police officer filed a lawsuit against the city and its officials, claiming he was forced to resign in January 2019, just days after confronting supervisors over the alleged quota system.

Since then, three more officers have filed lawsuits claiming they were fired in September for cooperating with the TBI investigation. And the city's assistant police chief, James Hardeman, resigned just days after the firings. The reason for his resignation was unclear.

Pinkston acknowledged the department did appear to attempt to adopt performance guidelines based upon officers' numbers of arrests, numbers of citations issued and other patrol activities, but each officer would not have been evaluated solely based on their arrest and citation numbers.

Those guidelines "were adopted by the department and were to be applied to each individual officer beginning in late 2018 or early 2019," the letter, obtained by the Times Free Press, states.

"Although these were described as performance standards, they can easily be construed to be quotas," Pinkston wrote.

Pinkston goes on to state that it was apparent that some officers thought they were bound to the new guidelines and voiced their complaints to command staff. But he noted that after some inter-department discussion, Hickman told his officers that the performance standards were no longer in effect.

Additionally, Pinkston notes that when Collegedale's city attorney was asked for his opinion, he "told the department to cease and desist this practice."

In a statement late Friday, attorneys for the fired officers credit the former officers with stopping the alleged quota system after voicing their complaints to supervisors.

"Unfortunately, the price of doing the right thing was their employment," attorney Janie Parks Varnell wrote.

Ultimately, though, while there seemed to be evidence implying a quota system, it may not have been enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt.

"Because these poorly drafted performance standards were discontinued as soon as they were brought to the attention of Chief Hickman and the City Attorney, and it's questionable how long they have been in effect, I will request the TBI close their investigative file with no further action," Pinkston wrote.

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