Federal lawsuit against former Soddy-Daisy police officer claims false imprisonment, false reporting

A Soddy-Daisy police officer filed a false report that led to the wrongful arrest of a Hamilton County man earlier this year, according to a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed on Dec. 27 in U.S. District Court on behalf of Hugo Garcia Padilla by Murfreesboro attorney Bryan Moseley, claims that Soddy-Daisy Police Officer Billy Lankford wrongfully arrested Garcia Padilla in connection with a Jan. 4 shooting in the 9600 block of Barbee Street. No one was injured in the incident.

The lawsuit said Garcia Padilla's ordeal began with a statement by Leonardo Maya, who was among those attacked by the shooter.

"Mr. Maya gave defendant Lankford the first name of the suspect, which was 'Hugo,'" the lawsuit stated. "Mr. Maya also informed defendant Lankford that the suspect lived near the O'Reilly's Auto Parts store on Hixson Pike."

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Garcia Padilla, who lived on Ely Road at the time of the incident, according to the lawsuit, was arrested by Lankford, who stated in a sworn affidavit seeking Garcia Padilla's arrest that Maya said the name of the person who assaulted him was Hugo Garcia Padilla.

Garcia Padilla was arrested on Jan. 5 and charged with one count of aggravated assault and one count of reckless endangerment. He was also put on a hold by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and taken to Louisiana to be deported due to the charges stemming from the shooting, according to documents obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Charges against Garcia Padilla were dropped on Feb. 1, and he was able to return to Hamilton County.

Garcia Padilla claims that the incident has caused him to suffer mental anguish, diminished quality of life, loss of earnings, as well as emotional pain and suffering since his arrest, according to the lawsuit.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is now overseeing the shooting case. The Times Free Press reached out to the TBI on Friday for an update on its investigation, but officials were unavailable for comment.

Moseley is asking that Garcia Padilla "be awarded a judgment for punitive damages against defendant Lankford, in an amount that is necessary to punish defendant Lankford and to deter others from committing similar wrongs in the future." The lawsuit also requests that litigation and discretionary costs be awarded, but the amount was not specified in the lawsuit.

The Times Free Press reached out to the Soddy-Daisy Police Department for comment and to check the status of Lankford's employment with the department. Chief Mike Sneed said via email on Friday that Lankford is no longer with the department and referred further inquiries to City Attorney Sam Elliott.

Elliott said via email on Friday that he had not reviewed the lawsuit and provided no further comment.

"Because defendant Lankford's statements were false, there was no probable cause to charge or arrest Mr. Padilla with aggravated assault or reckless endangerment," the lawsuit said, claiming that Garcia Padilla's arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that Lankford acted with malice by arresting him.

The case made headlines after then-candidate for district attorney Coty Wamp got involved in the investigation.

Wamp's involvement began after someone contacted her to say that Lankford had arrested the wrong man, according to emails exchanged between then-staff members of former District Attorney Neal Pinkston. The Times Free Press obtained copies of the emails. Pinkston left office Aug. 31 after losing to Wamp in the Republican primary earlier in the year.

Wamp was previously legal counsel to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

"(Wamp) stated that she had been contacted by someone who stated they (Soddy-Daisy police) arrested the wrong person," the emails said. Wamp later concluded that the wrong person had indeed been arrested, according to the emails.

The Times Free Press made phone and email inquiries to Wamp about the lawsuit, to which there was no response.

Pinkston requested that the TBI take over the investigation and look into any possible witness tampering after he said witnesses began to act strange and recant their initial statements to investigators after speaking with Wamp, according to previous Times Free Press reporting.

The Times Free Press previously reported that Wamp claimed that Pinkston may have hired a private investigator to look into her stemming from the Garcia Padilla arrest and subsequent investigation.

The Times Free Press reported Jan. 31 that Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk took over the investigation of the allegations of witness tampering. Funk did not respond Friday to inquiries from the Times Free Press seeking updates on the status of that investigation.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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