Former Chattanooga officer resigned ahead of firing for stealing guns from dead residents

Eric Brown thumbnail
photo Eric Brown

A Chattanooga police officer resigned just before being fired late last year after the department determined he'd stolen two firearms - one of which he pawned - from recently deceased Chattanoogans whose families called police to help determine what to do with the weapons.

According to Chattanooga Police Department internal affairs records, former officer Eric Brown responded to two separate calls to collect weapons in February 2020. But Brown didn't turn those firearms in to the department's property division and didn't list them on the incident reports.

The firearm that was pawned reportedly originally belonged to a former small-town police chief. The town was not specified.

Brown's attorney Janie Parks Varnell declined to comment Monday.

In a statement, Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy said, "I apologize to our community for the actions of this now-former officer who violated the values all Chattanooga police officers swear to uphold. I am proud of the Chattanooga police officers investigating this case who did the right thing by arresting Eric Brown, and I fully intended to fire him had he not resigned prior to his scheduled disciplinary review hearing."

The police department is in the process of requesting Brown's de-certification from Tennessee's law enforcement accreditation commission, spokesperson Elisa Myzal said. If granted, it would mean he would be unable to work in law enforcement anywhere in the state.

The incidents

In the first case, Brown was dispatched to a hospice care facility on Feb. 10, 2020. A man had died that weekend, and while his nephew packed up his belongings, a gun was found wrapped in a shirt stored in a plastic container.

The nephew asked staff to turn the gun over to police because he wasn't sure if it was stolen.

The next day, the family decided to keep the gun if it wasn't stolen. But when the nephew called the department's property division to ask about getting it back, he was told there was no gun and no evidence of it being turned in.

The nephew asked that Brown contact him, and a property technician relayed the message that same day, department emails show. Just over a week went by before the nephew called again. And again, the technician relayed the message.

That time, Brown responded.

"I just spoke with him. I'm on my way now. Thank you," he wrote.

"Nine days after Officer Brown first took possession of the firearm, he turned the firearm along with two spent shell casings from the weapon into property and revised the intake sheet to show the firearm and spent casings," the internal affairs report states.

Investigators found that Brown had completed an incident report following his response to the hospice care facility and turned in a crack pipe that had also been found among the deceased man's belongings. But there was no mention of a firearm, and there was no body camera footage of the incident.

In the second case, however, there was body camera footage of Brown collecting a silver-plated .38 caliber revolver from the home of a woman who died a few days earlier. The firearm originally belonged to the woman's father, who was a police chief in a small town, her son told police during the internal investigation.

The woman's son called police to collect the firearm and three boxes of ammunition because the family initially had no interest in keeping the weapon.

The son later told investigators that, "Had I not heard from my brother and the - the sentimental value from my grandfather who was a chief of police in a small town, I don't guess I would have ever known what's transpired since."

According to the internal affairs report, Brown can be heard in body camera footage saying, "So y'all have no desire what happens to this?" while showing the family the firearm.

The son told Brown, "Whatever can be done legally," and in an interview with investigators, the son said he asked Brown if the gun would have any financial value.

"Personally, I don't think it is worth anything," Brown said, according to the investigative report.

The family agreed to turn the firearm over to the police department, and Brown told them it would eventually be destroyed.

However, the Chattanooga Police Department does not sell or destroy weapons, Myzal said. (A Tennessee law passed in 2010 makes it illegal for police to destroy guns they seize. Under that law, weapons can only be destroyed if they are "inoperable or unsafe.")

It wasn't until April 7 that the woman's family began to ask how to get the firearm back. As in the first case, the family called the department's property division only to be told that no gun had been turned in and there was no mention of a gun on the property intake sheet or the incident report.

Brown did, however, turn in the boxes of ammunition.

Over the next few days, criminal and internal investigators began taking a closer look at Brown's actions.

The investigation

A supervisor asked Brown to meet with him one morning. The supervisor told Brown the deceased woman's family was looking for the firearm.

Then, "Officer Brown without hesitation, stated he knew of the incident, and stated he gave the firearm to Officer Hans Anderson to turn into property," the supervisor wrote in a report of the interaction. "Officer Brown suggested Officer Anderson submitted the firearm into property under a different complaint number."

Anderson resigned from the department on Feb. 7, 2020, three days before the first incident and 17 days before the second.

"I had already turned in my resignation and I had turned in all my gear I wasn't on patrol. I wasn't even working for the department at that time," Anderson told investigators in a phone interview.

"To my recollection, I have never received a gun from another officer to turn into property for them," he added.

Criminal investigators found that on March 17, Brown sold to a pawn shop a .38 caliber revolver similar to the one he took from the deceased woman's family.

The investigator visited the pawn shop, tracked down the buyer and retrieved the weapon.

After being confronted with the information, Brown confessed to lying and trading the weapon along with another firearm that belonged to his own father for a Springfield Hellcat 9mm pistol. However, when asked about the gun from the first case at the hospice care center, he said "it had been mistakenly left in a line car."

"Officer Brown committed theft on more than one occasion when he retained for personal use a firearm entrusted to him in his official capacity. Officer Brown then pawned one of those weapons for his personal gain. Officer Brown's conduct was unlawful and brought the Chattanooga Police Department into disrepute and impaired the operation and efficiency of the department Officer Brown's actions resulted in a loss to the citizen and a personal gain for himself," both Captain Nathan Vaughn and Assistant Chief Glenn Scruggs wrote in their recommendation to sustain all allegations made against Brown.

Internal investigators also noted that, in reviewing 31 "found property" calls to which Brown responded over the past two years, they found that Brown did not activate his body camera in 12 of those cases and failed to complete an incident report in two.

He resigned on Nov. 29 ahead of his disciplinary hearing.

Brown was cited for misdemeanor theft of property under $1,000 on May 13. He waived grand jury indictment. Hamilton County General Sessions Criminal Division Judge Gerald Webb sentenced him to a year of probation and granted him judicial diversion, an alternative form of punishment available only to those who do not have a prior criminal record.

Once that time is up, and if he doesn't violate the terms of his probation, he can ask the court to dismiss the case and have his charges expunged from the public record.

Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.