Man seeks $75 million from Hamilton County in lawsuit over repeated baton strikes from deputies

Complaint alleges musician was infected with COVID-19 while incarcerated for walking on wrong side of road

Arrington v. Hamilton County

Reginald Arrington Jr., the man struck repeatedly by Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies in May, sustained several injuries as a result, as well as lung and kidney damage from contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated for four weeks at the Silverdale Detention Center, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

His attorney says he is seeking $75 million.

Last month, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston released dashboard camera footage of the incident involving deputies - Sgt. Mickey Rountree, Cpl. Brian Killingsworth and deputies Nick Dewey, Todd Cook and Lori Choate.

The deputies - all white - repeatedly hit 32-year-old Arrington, who is Black, with batons and held him to the ground, the video shows. They had been called to the Ooltewah neighborhood by a woman who told deputies that a Black man in a blue jumpsuit was acting suspiciously, walking up to women and "asking them questions and asked her how to get out of the neighborhood," court records state.

Vince Champion, southeast regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said on behalf of the deputies, "Our deputies are cooperating with everybody. We'll vigorously fight the lawsuit."

The lawsuit refers to the incident as a beating 15 times, even though Champion says the blows delivered to Arrington by deputies did not constitute a beating. He did not explain in what way the incident failed to meet the definition of a beating when asked by a reporter.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court by Arrington's attorney Troy Bowlin II, Arrington is a musician and was on his way to Atlanta from Ohio for a music business meeting.

That May 23 morning, a Saturday, Arrington realized his car was broken down while parked at a local Super 8 Motel. He set out on foot to look for a female friend who lived in the Ooltewah neighborhood, the Times Free Press reported previously. But she told him to leave.

Arrington wasn't familiar with the neighborhood, so he stopped several individuals who were jogging or walking along Waverly Court and asked for directions, the lawsuit states. His goal was to walk until he could catch an Uber ride to the nearest bus station.

By the time he made it to Old Lee Highway, sheriff's deputies spotted him and told him he was "in violation of the pedestrian on roadway law," which is what precipitated the arrest, according to the arrest report.

According to that law,"any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic that may approach from the opposite direction."

Bowlin argues that his client did nothing wrong aside from walking on the wrong side of the road, something that is "flouted by countless weekend joggers," he wrote. Additionally, Bowlin noted, the law provides a caveat in stating that pedestrians should walk on the left side "when practicable."

While questioning Arrington, deputies said he began exhibiting what they called "erratic behavior" by emptying his pockets, "saying he didn't want to get shot" and lying in the road with his hands outstretched.

"Mr. Arrington was afraid," Bowlin wrote in the lawsuit. "Tamir Rice was shot and killed by law enforcement in broad daylight on a public playground, a few hours from Toledo, Ohio, where Arrington lived. Two months prior to the Plaintiff's arrest, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her home, in her own bed. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Corey Jones. Eric Garner. These are the names, the collective experiences, that caused the Plaintiff's pulse to quicken and for him to fear for his own safety in the presence of the Defendant Officers."

As they escorted Arrington to the patrol vehicle, his hands cuffed and raised behind his back, deputies claimed he grabbed a deputy's gun and "made several attempts to pull it from his holster," according to the arrest report.

At that point, the deputies can be seen on the video taking Arrington to the ground and striking him repeatedly.

Bowlin argues his client did not reach for the gun or assault the deputies, saying he was turning to look back at the vehicle carrying his belongings after a deputy told him he couldn't ride in that same cruiser.

For five-and-a-quarter minutes, deputies struck Arrington and held him to the ground, the videos show. His limp body was then picked up and placed in the back of a patrol vehicle.

Around six minutes go by before the audio on the in-car camera is turned on and Arrington can be heard on the videos breathlessly pleading with deputy Choate to "get in the car, Choate, and drive."

He was "clearly traumatized by his treatment at the hands of law enforcement, hyperventilating and anxious," Bowlin argues in the lawsuit.

"Mr. Arrington begged Deputy Choate to drive away before the other officers returned, stating 'y'all trying to kill me ... y'all just had me choked,'" the lawsuit states. "In response, Deputy Choate told Mr. Arrington to 'shut the [expletive] up.'"

Arrington was eventually taken to a local hospital for evaluation. The lawsuit states that Arrington sustained "serious physical injuries, including contusions, cuts and bruises to his torso and shins, cuts to his wrists from the handcuffs, dislocated shoulders and a permanent disfigurement of one shin bone."

Additionally, because he was incarcerated for four weeks "during a global pandemic" for what Bowlin claims should have been nothing more than a citation for walking on the wrong side of the road, Arrington contracted COVID-19, "a serious and potentially deadly virus." His treatment and evaluation of the lasting damage to his health is ongoing, Bowlin wrote in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit makes multiple, separate accusations against the county, Hammond and the five deputies, including unlawful seizure and false arrest, excessive force and failure to protect, negligence and malicious prosecution.

It also accuses Hammond and the county of having "an unofficial policy of encouraging and/or tolerating the use of excessive force on compliant or only passively resistant arrestees, particularly African Americans and other minorities."

As evidence, the lawsuit cites multiple cases of alleged brutality and misconduct the sheriff's office has been accused of in recent years, including some which involved the same deputies who were filmed striking Arrington.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office declined to comment, citing the Tennessee Supreme Court's Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules state that prosecutors should discourage law enforcement officers "from making an extrajudicial statement that the prosecutor would be prohibited from making," which would be any comments "that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

Hammond has commented to defend his deputies, though, stating that "videos should never be used to totally judge a man who's doing his duty."

"The Sheriff has the right to comment on active/pending investigations, however, there are legal options in place that protect him should he wish to not," sheriff spokesman Matt Lea said in an email. "I have offered you all the information I can at this present time."

Lea then referred all questions to county attorneys, who did not return requests for comment.

All five of the deputies remain on active duty. Pinkston dropped all charges against Arrington when he recommended the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation review the incident.

Contact Rosana Hughes at or follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.