A Chattanooga police officer was arrested Thursday on charges of felony kidnapping and felony sexual battery after allegedly taking a woman caught shoplifting to his apartment, fondling her and telling her he wanted to have sex with her, according to an affidavit of complaint filed against the officer.
The incident escalated to the point where the alleged victim thought she was going to be killed when the officer showed her a handgun and took her to a back alley, according to the affidavit.
The officer, Benjamin Dessalines with the Chattanooga Police Department's neighborhood policing bureau, was placed on paid leave while the department completes an internal affairs investigation and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office conducts a criminal investigation.
The Times Free Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
The incident began Nov. 8 at about 11 p.m. when the alleged victim told investigators she was caught shoplifting at a Food City grocery store where Dessalines was working as a security guard, according to the affidavit. He was in uniform during the incident, according to a police department spokesperson. At that point, the person she came to the store with was told to go home.
The 28-year-old officer told the woman he would take her home after his shift ended about 45 minutes later and had her wait at a nearby business, according to the affidavit. The woman was picked up in a "nice" black SUV with a "weird" government tag, she told investigators. A department spokesperson later said it was not a city-issued vehicle.
On the ride home, Dessalines allegedly entered the address to the woman's home into his phone for directions then messaged his Facebook profile to her. He allegedly told the woman he had to swing by his house first to meet someone. He then took her to an apartment near the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, according to the affidavit.
The woman wanted to stay in the SUV while Dessalines went inside, she told investigators, but he came to her side of the vehicle and told her to get out. The woman was afraid and obliged, according to the affidavit.
She went inside, took a seat on a stool and Dessalines came up behind her, the woman told investigators. Dessalines then allegedly kissed her neck, fondled her chest, placed his hands between her legs and later told her he wanted to have sex with her. He allegedly told the woman he had never seen a black girl with natural hair like hers and asked for oral sex.
The woman said she was not interested and tried to push the officer off of her, she told investigators. He allegedly told her to go to his bed and show him what positions she liked. She refused.
Dessalines told the woman they could leave when he finished eating, according to the affidavit. They waited, and he took her back to his vehicle, according to the affidavit. He then asked for help finding his gun, she told investigators. Again, she refused, she said.
Dessalines then pulled a non-service weapon from a white bag and began to load it, the woman told investigators. He told her he was going to an area he was unfamiliar with when she asked why he had a gun, according to the affidavit.
Dessalines then turned into an alley and passed an oncoming vehicle, the affidavit states. He muttered, "I hope that's not a cop," the woman told investigators. At that point, the woman thought she was being taken to the alley to be killed, according to the affidavit.
Instead, the officer turned around and took her to the address she had provided, according to the affidavit. He allegedly told the woman she had more to lose than he did and shouldn't tell anyone.
A black handgun and two white bags matching the description given by the woman were found in the vehicle.
The woman filed a report with police about the incident Nov. 27, and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office began an investigation the next day at the request of the police department. The results of the investigation will be given to Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, according to a spokesman for the office.
The police department began an internal affairs investigation the day the report was filed, according to the department.
Dessalines, 28, was arrested Nov. 29 on charges of felony kidnapping and felony sexual battery. His bond was set at $15,000.
"Investigations into conduct of this magnitude are the result of choices and actions of a few and do not represent the values of the department and the many officers who serve the Chattanooga community," according to a statement from Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy.
Dessalines is one of two officers known to be under investigation for alleged sexual assaults. Desmond Logan — also an officer in the city's neighborhood policing bureau — is the subject of an FBI investigation, along with police and sheriff's department investigations, for what Roddy called "sexual misconduct." Logan allegedly raped at least three women.
"The victims in these cases found the courage to come forward to police and share their accounts of what happened," reads a statement from police department spokeswoman Elisa Myzal. "[The department] will thoroughly investigate their complaints as we do with all complaints of professional misconduct that are filed with Internal Affairs. If deemed appropriate, [the department] will hold the offending officers accountable."
Updated at 8:04 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 with additional information.
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