Hamilton County sheriff admits police officer got special treatment in DUI probe [video]

Hamilton County sheriff admits police officer got special treatment in DUI probe [video]

December 3rd, 2018 by Rosana Hughes in Local Regional News

Lt. Craig Joel

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

This story was updated at 7:02 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, with more information.

UPDATE: Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks out about a Chattanooga police officer who allegedly drove his city vehicle drunk. Read more: https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2018/nov/30/chattanoogpolice-officer-counters-firing-atte/484112/

Posted by Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday, December 3, 2018

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond answers questions from the county commission on Aug. 29, 2017.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond answers questions from...

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says special treatment was given to a Chattanooga police officer who was recently investigated for driving under the influence.

Lt. Craig Joel has been the subject of a Chattanooga Police Department internal affairs investigation after a Feb. 2 incident in which, according to records, Joel drove his city vehicle drunk, stumbled through the Highway 58 Amigo's Restaurant parking lot and got back behind the wheel before slumping over.

When Hamilton County sheriff's deputies arrived, Joel was no longer behind the wheel. They opted not to test his blood alcohol content or arrest him for public intoxication. And one county deputy later said her boss, Rick Jones, told her to leave Joel's name out of an incident report.

In response to the Times Free Press report detailing Joel's case, Hammond said Monday that Joel's name should not have been omitted from the incident report, and his office plans to tighten its protocols on how officer discretion is used and he added that more people will be involved in how incident reports are handled.

"There's always a tendency of wanting to cover for your own," Hammond said. "You can't always do that. We certainly can't get away with that anymore if they're driving drunk. It used to be common practice."

Hammond said the supervisor should not have instructed the deputy to omit Joel's name.

"We should have used more discretion and make sure it was a complete report as we would do with any other people," he said.

Normally, an incident report is written even if a person isn't charged, Hammond said, "but we omitted facts that we would normally probably have put in another report."

While Joel's name should have been in the report, deputy Charlene Choate was within her rights to choose not to arrest him.

Public intoxication charges are up to an officer's discretion, Hammond said, adding that "it's all about the circumstances."

"If I put every person who is [publicly intoxicated] in jail, I would have to build two more jails to handle it," he said.

Law enforcement officers routinely release inebriated people into the custody of a responsible person to get them home safely. For Joel, that was his supervisors — Chattanooga Police Department officials.

So in Joel's case, Hammond said, he wasn't given preferential treatment as far as whether he should have been arrested.

As for a DUI charge, though security camera footage now reveals Joel was indeed in his car, Choate did not see that herself and had no way to prove it at the time, Hammond said. The sheriff's office was not aware of security footage until after the incident.

"If you had tried to charge him with DUI and you get in court, you get egg on your face from defense saying, 'Well how do you know?'" Hammond said.

Looking back, though, Hammond said it would have been better to just go ahead with a public intoxication charge and "let the chips fall where they may."

"All I can say is we'll do better next time," he said.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

Document: Internal Affairs Investigation into Craig Joel

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