A man who was cuffed, cussed and curtailed from recording a Bradley County Sheriff's Office traffic stop in April said Sunday he's glad to hear two officers involved in the incident have been disciplined.
"That's positive, that's a good thing, I respect them for that," said Jamichael Parks, though he was hoping for firings rather than a demotion and a suspension.
"But at least they did something, that's all that matters," Parks said.
The incident happened April 8 at the Harry's gas station on Dalton Pike, as Parks used his cousin Terrell Parks' phone to record officers questioning family members and searching their truck at the gas pumps.
Parks recorded Deputy Dale Liner ordering him to stop filming and hand over the phone. Liner grabbed the phone and then took Parks into custody, threatening to "break his f—— arms" if he didn't put his hands behind his back for the cuffs. The Parks cousins said Liner also confronted Terrell, chest-bumping him, using obscenities, calling him names and threatening him with jail.
While this was going on, then-Lt. Tom Wasson's body mic recorded him threatening to arrest Jamichael Parks for disorderly conduct and making a false claim it was illegal to film police.
Jamichael Parks was uncuffed and allowed to leave after being detained for 20 to 25 minutes. The four people in the truck were not charged either.
Parks filed a complaint about the officers' behavior. An internal affairs investigation obtained by the Times Free Press contradicts Liner's claim that the cousins were intruding into the traffic stop scene and behaving threateningly.
Terrell Parks could not be reached for comment Sunday. He did not respond to requests for interviews about the incident, according to the internal affairs report.
Liner said the cousins were told three times to get away from the investigation scene. The cousins said they approached once, to ask their family members if they were all right, and stayed several feet away on the store's sidewalk or inside after that. Video from the store's surveillance cameras, audio recordings and witness statements support their story, according to the internal affairs report.
"It is evident that the sidewalk is not part of the traffic stop scene due to other civilians standing on it without being asked to leave and during the traffic stop civilians are entering and exiting through the same door," states the report written by Lt. David Shoemaker and Detective Kevin White. "Deputy Liner placed the complainant into custody without due regard for law or rights of the citizen and exceeded limitations in detaining the complainant."
The people in the truck were stopped because Deputy Tiffany Goodwin called Liner and Deputy Robert Jones to say she had encountered one of the occupants in O'Reilly's Auto Parts and smelled marijuana. She watched him get into a black truck, which Jones then pulled over at Harry's. Other officers showed up to search the truck and its occupants, three males and a juvenile female.
One of them was Wasson, who said, "You know we can seized that phone if you're taking our picture without our permission? Hey, Disorderly Conduct, do you want to go to jail? Cuff him up. Try that crap around here. Do you now know there's been a court ruling that if you film us we can seize the phone and put you in jail? Do you think what's going to happen to him now for being a smart aleck? Do you think we're playing out here? The jail is half a mile away, do I need to get a van to come over here? I'll put you all in. We don't play games around here. Your [sic] polite with us, we're polite with you. You disrespect us, we will take you in. That was pretty dumb you know it? Sixth court of appeal [sic] has ruled you cannot do that anymore."
The report said the statements were " not professional in tone and reflected poorly on the Bradley County Sheriff's Office."
It also said Wasson's comments "showed a lack of knowledge concerning rights to search and seizure or legal process."
Such talk might lead the public to "believe that they must respect law enforcement or go to jail," the report states.
"This is not a healthy perception for the citizens of Bradley County to have if the Sheriff's office wishes to improve public relations."
The investigators sustained a finding of conduct unbecoming an officer against Wasson. He was busted from lieutenant to sergeant, with a $233-per-pay-period salary reduction. He also is required to attend training on the Fourth Amendment and write a report on how the incident violated Jamichael Parks' constitutional rights.
Wasson appealed but the discipline was upheld, according to Chief Deputy James Bradford.
Findings were sustained against Liner related to conduct in arresting and dealing with law violators, and for use of profanity. Liner was given a 10-day suspension.
Findings against Liner and Jones for not using their in-car audio/video systems were not sustained.
It is departmental policy to have car cameras and body mics recording during all calls. However, Liner and Goodwin said their audio recorders weren't working, and Jones had neither audio nor video. Cameras in Wasson's car and a car driven by Deputy Dominic Kienlen also weren't working.
Officers said they reported equipment malfunctions but the internal affairs investigation noted that "the current system has no tracking measures" for repair requests so there's no way to prove or disprove their statements.
Jamichael Parks said he wishes the discipline for Wasson and, especially, Liner had been more severe.
"I wanted them fired, to be honest, 'cause if he's comfortable talking to somebody like that, this ain't the first time," Parks said.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.