Judge says teen arrested at East Ridge High School last fall escalated incident

Staff photo by La Shawn Pagán / Body cam footage is presented on Friday, May 26, 2023, during a preliminary hearing for Tauris Sledge at Hamilton County General Sessions court.

A Hamilton County judge Friday said a student who was forcefully arrested last September at East Ridge High School escalated the situation.

Tauris Sledge, 18, whose 2022 arrest was captured on video, was in Hamilton County General Sessions Court for a preliminary hearing on criminal charges of assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

"Mr. Sledge escalated this entire incident," Judge Gary Starnes said during the hearing. "All he had to do was do what his teacher said."

Starnes sent the matter to the grand jury, with charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The judge dismissed assault charges against Sledge.

"The video speaks for itself," Starnes said.

Sledge appeared in court without his parents. He was accompanied by his attorneys, Chrissy Mincy and Roger Layne.

During the hearing, the body camera footage that showed Sledge's arrest by Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Tyler McRae was shown. McRae testified he had been working at East Ridge High School for "a month and 10 days," at the time of the incident.

As the footage from McRae's body camera played, those in the gallery watched, some shaking their heads and others covering their mouths at the time McRae forcefully grabbed Sledge in an attempt to arrest him.

McRae kept his head down as the footage was shown on the big screen of the courtroom, while Sledge turned toward the screen to watch.

During his testimony, McRae told defense attorney Mincy he had maced two other students at the school during the short time he had been there.

McRae also testified he thought Sledge was underage and took him to the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center once he was able to get him in custody. The deputy said he put his handcuffs back on Sledge and transported him to the Hamilton County Jail after McRae was informed Sledge was 18.

During her cross-examination, Mincy asked McRae if he was trained in de-escalation tactics, The deputy said he was. Mincy then asked McRae if he thought putting his hand on Sledge's shoulder could have provoked him.

"I was trying to calm him down, let him know I was open to him," McRae said.

Mincy asked if McRae had included his response to Sledge in his affidavit.

"You didn't write that you asked him, 'What the f are you going to do?' Did you?" Mincy said. "Do you see that as de-escalation?"

McRae said he did not see it as a de-escalation tactic.

In a short video uploaded to YouTube in September, McRae, who is white, can be seen pulling on Sledge's dreadlocks and pushing him to the ground while trying to arrest Sledge at the high school gym.

In hourlong body camera footage later released by the Sheriff's Office, a school coach can be heard telling McRae as he enters the gym that Sledge approached him aggressively.

Sledge – who had been sitting in the gym bleachers after saying he didn't feel well – can be heard telling McRae and another teacher that it was the coach who approached him aggressively after Sledge said he began to feel well and wanted to play basketball and came down from the bleachers.

In the footage, Sledge could be heard telling McRae not to touch him before he could be seen walking away from McRae and up the bleachers. McRae then followed him and repeatedly asked Sledge to leave the gym.

After Sledge failed to comply with McRae's request, the deputy then grabbed Sledge and pulled on his dreadlocks and pushed Sledge to the ground while saying, "Don't resist."

Sledge then could be heard saying, "Ya'll see what he's doing!? I'm not resisting."

McRae then twice used his pepper spray on Sledge.

After the incident, East Ridge students peacefully protested Sledge's arrest by walking out of class as they demanded change. The walkout was supported by the district, according to a statement released to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Following Sledge's arrest, McRae — who had been working at the school since the start of the fall semester — put in for a transfer back to patrol, which was approved, according to a Sept. 26 statement by the Sheriff's Office to the Times Free Press.

Sledge's attorneys told the Times Free Press they will continue to prepare a case for their client and ensure he's protected.

"We believe that what Deputy McRae did to Tauris was criminal," Mincy said. "We do respect the judge's ruling. We are pleased to have the assault case dismissed, but we will advocate for Tauris through every stage of this proceeding.

"We will be working to make sure that Tauris is protected in every arena," Mincy said.

There was no comment about the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit.

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