Hamilton County deputy involved in East Ridge student arrest was named in two Wilkey lawsuits

Staff photo by Olivia Ross  /  Students walk a lap around the football field, many carrying signs and chanting, as East Ridge High School students held a walkout on Friday, September 23, 2022, in protest of the forceful arrest of Tauris Sledge by the school's resource officer.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Students walk a lap around the football field, many carrying signs and chanting, as East Ridge High School students held a walkout on Friday, September 23, 2022, in protest of the forceful arrest of Tauris Sledge by the school's resource officer.

Hamilton County School Resource Deputy Tyler McRae, seen on video last week pulling the hair of an East Ridge High School student and pushing him to the ground during an arrest, was named in two lawsuits against former Hamilton County Deputy Daniel Wilkey.

Wilkey, who faces 44 criminal charges including sexual battery and reckless endangerment, is accused of violating citizens' rights during traffic stops, including the illegal baptism of a woman, performing an illegal body cavity search on a Black man and groping five underage girls.

In a Sept. 21 letter to Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett, Chattanooga Clergy for Justice requested not only that McRae be removed from East Ridge High School, but also that the agency meet with the clergy to speak about hiring policies as well as to meet with a representative of the Department of Justice to go over the conditions at the Silverdale Detention Center.

"Officer Tyler McRae, who has a history of accusations and lawsuits against him for participating or standing silently by as women, children and other populations were sexually assaulted by your department's officers, is involved in an incident of excessive force against a child," the letter stated.

(READ MORE: Community members gather, demand change following East Ridge High School arrest video)

 

McRae could be seen in a video that went viral last week grabbing Tauris Sledge, 18, a Black student, by the hair and pushing him to the ground as Sledge says, "Ya'll see what he's doing? I'm not resisting."

McRae is not facing criminal charges in connection with Wilkey but was mentioned in two lawsuits for allegedly failing to stop or report to a superior Wilkey's actions after Wilkey allegedly groped five underage females during a traffic stop that Wilkey claimed was a "drug search" and also while Wilkey allegedly asked a boy to strip during an April 2019 traffic stop.

Clergy for Justice asks in its letter why McRae was placed in the school to begin with and adds that McRae should not be allowed to be a deputy in any other school "based on this and past incidents with women and children."

"These are very serious allegations, right, and they should be taken seriously," Jerry Tidwell, McRae's attorney said in a telephone interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "But to assume that he is guilty is outrageous. He is a father, a son, so maybe that should be taken into consideration. "

Three of the five lawsuits against Wilkey stemming from the traffic stop involving the minors have been dismissed.

On Friday, East Ridge students and faculty walked out during a peaceful protest in response to Sledge's arrest.

According to Tidwell, McRae has received death threats after a short clip of Sledge's arrest appeared on social media.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office later released an hour-long body camera video showing Sledge screaming at McRae and three school faculty members before he was maced by McRae. Later in the video, Sledge could be heard saying he did not feel safe with McRae, while also saying he couldn't breathe after being maced.

"He was removed from the streets and put over the care of our children," the clergy letter said of School Resource Officer McRae. "Why was this officer ever placed as an SRO at a school? No child, regardless of age, should feel unsafe in school."

Sledge was charged with one count of disorderly conduct, one of resisting arrest and one of assault, according to Hamilton County Court records.

McRae, who began working as a school resource deputy at the start of the semester, according to the Sheriff's Office, requested to be transferred from school resource duties as of last week.

"After the events last week, School Resource Deputy McRae requested to be transferred back to patrol. Sheriff Garrett approved his transfer," J. Matt Lea, the sheriff's office spokesperson, said by email.

McRae was also mentioned as being involved in the nearly hour-long traffic stop performed by Wilkey on Shandle Riley on Feb. 6, 2019. According to court transcripts of the traffic stop, Riley was ordered to lift up her shirt and jump up and down, exposing the bottom part of her breasts while doing so. After the traffic stop, McRae left to answer another call, while Wilkey illegally baptized Riley at Soddy Lake as another deputy, Jacob Goforth, recorded.

"It is a common practice for male officers to ask and sometimes female officers -- although female officers might just search -- instead of touching the woman in that area," Tidwell said. "They asked her to pull her bra out slightly, not exposing the breast or anything, but to pull her shirt up and to pull the bra out and shake it, so as to have anything in there fall out. It's not an uncommon practice."

The Sheriff's Office did not have any comments in regards to McRae's assignment to school resource duties, citing the ongoing litigation.

McRae, as well as deputies Bobby Brewer and Jacob Goforth, were named in lawsuits against Wilkey as being witnesses to Wilkey's alleged violation of citizens' rights.

"There's a lot that has been made of these allegations, and that's what these are, allegations," Tidwell said. "I think it's unfortunate that he's been assumed to be guilty."

Prior to the December 2019 arraignment hearing for Wilkey, McRae shared on his social media page that he and Wilkey had been cleared of charges. Wilkey was later indicted on 44 criminal charges, including rape, assault, official oppression, stalking and extortion.

Wilkey is scheduled to appear before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman on Nov. 3.

Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge gave the go-ahead to the lawsuit against Wilkey as a result of the alleged illegal baptism of Riley. Eight days after Tennessee Eastern District Court Judge Travis R. McDonough approved the lawsuit, Riley was found dead in a cabin in Soddy-Daisy.

Riley, 42, who was found unresponsive by her landlord, died of an accidental overdose, according to the Hamilton County Medical Examiner. Her case will move forward in federal court under "the estate of Shandle Riley."

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.