A federal complaint has been filed against a number of area law enforcement officers and government agencies after a March 2017 vehicle pursuit took a violent turn, leading to a beating so severe one of the suspect's testicles was ruptured.
The complaint, filed in March, alleges the Hamilton County, Fort Oglethorpe and Catoosa County, Georgia, officers' conduct deprived the man of his right to not be subjected to unreasonable seizure by the use of excessive and potentially deadly force under the Fourth Amendment. The Times Free Press is not identifying the man because of the nature of his injury.
The complaint further alleges that Hamilton and Catoosa counties and the city of Fort Oglethorpe failed to protect the man from the unreasonable and excessive use of potentially deadly force by the officers, who are employed by those governments.
Since the complaint's filing, all defendants have been dismissed by the court, but the plaintiff and his attorneys have until Monday to file an amended complaint.
If an amended complaint is not filed, the case faces complete dismissal because it fails to specifically name which officers are responsible for the beating and which officers failed to stop it. That information is something the plaintiff and his attorneys have not been able to determine because they've not been allowed to reach the point at which they would have access to review the evidence in the case.
At around 11 p.m. on March 8, 2017, a Hamilton County sheriff's deputy patrolling the Standifer Gap Road area tried to stop a white Camaro for a traffic violation — a headlight was out and the license plate was not displayed properly. But the driver didn't stop and a pursuit ensued.
The man later told investigators he had just bought the car earlier that day for his girlfriend, and he ran because he had methamphetamine, money, weapons and ammunition in the car.
The pursuit crossed the state line into Georgia before it eventually came to an end on Cloud Springs Road after the suspect's vehicle ran out of gas and a deputy's vehicle struck its passenger's side door. Both vehicles were disabled.
Once the vehicle was off the roadway, dash camera footage shows the man raising his hands out of the driver's side window. Deputies and officers ran to the door and began yelling orders at the man and attempting to get him into custody.
A Hamilton County sheriff's deputy tried to pull the man out of the vehicle and, when the suspect came out, he landed face down on the road. Law enforcement officials who were there told the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that the man resisted arrest by putting his hands under his body and fighting with police.
Fist and baton strikes and a stun gun were used to subdue the man before he was finally handcuffed behind his back.
Police found a 40-caliber semiautomatic pistol on the ground next to the man, and a semi-automatic pistol was found in the vehicle's console.
Once cuffed, the man was escorted to the the rear driver's side of a Hamilton County patrol car.
The events that followed were described as multiple elbow strikes and a search for contraband that was so forceful the man was "slammed down onto the trunk" of the patrol unit. That's according to six law enforcement officials from both Tennessee and Georgia who witnessed the incident and detailed it to the GBI during its criminal investigation between March and May 2017.
After the arrest, the man was taken to a local hospital for medical review and then transferred to a larger hospital for treatment of a ruptured testicle. He was booked into the Hamilton County Jail the following day and hit with a slew of charges, including evading arrest, aggravated assault and reckless driving. His case is still making its way through the courts.
Hamilton County sheriff's deputies are required to file a "use of force" report when force is used during an arrest, Lt. Ricky Jones told the GBI. Deputies have to list other officers who were present but can detail only their own use of force.
Hamilton County deputy Brandon Bennett filed his use of force report the same day of the pursuit. But Sgt. Greggory Carson, who the GBI and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office internal affairs investigators determined to be the officer who did the beating, did not file his use of force report.
Carson is not named in the federal lawsuit because his identity was not disclosed to the plaintiff or his attorneys.
Carson later told investigators that he'd forgotten to file the report, though he did review Bennett's report and dash camera footage, as well as another deputy's camera.
A formal excessive force complaint was filed on March 10, 2017, after Bennett's use of force report was reviewed by supervisors. Sheriff Jim Hammond also ordered all evidence be turned over to the GBI, sheriff's spokesman Matt Lea said. The GBI was investigating to determine if any criminal laws were violated during the use of force incident.
The complaint alleged Carson used excessive force, exhibited unbecoming conduct, failed to supervise, contributed to bad treatment of prisoners and neglected his duty. He was reassigned to a non-uniformed patrol position on March 17, 2017.
"Throughout the entire investigation, Sergeant Carson was fully cooperative with Georgia Law Enforcement authorities," Lea said in a statement.
Two other deputies also faced excessive force allegations, but those claims were not sustained.
The internal affairs investigation was suspended until the criminal investigation by the GBI was completed.
Seventeen people were interviewed in the investigation, including Carson and the man who sustained the injuries. Six in-car cameras were reviewed, as well as incident reports, 911 dispatch reports and the man's medical records.
Multiple officers noted hearing Hamilton County deputies cursing at the man.
In a dash camera video, deputies can be heard saying, "you came to the wrong —— county, —— " and "Oh, I wish you would'a pulled that gun."
"I wouldn't do that, bro," the man replies to the deputy.
Other officers on scene told the GBI it was Hamilton County officers who said those things while searching the man — who was no longer resisting — for contraband at the rear of one of the patrol cars.
Dash camera footage shows a group of deputies walk the man to the rear of the patrol car. One deputy, later identified as Carson, then elbows the man in the back four times before he picks the man up and throws him farther up the trunk of the vehicle.
Carson told investigators he began striking the man because the man kept tensing his body and at one point tried to turn toward Carson.
One Georgia officer told the GBI he saw a Hamilton County deputy say he was going to check the suspect for contraband.
Another officer remembered hearing the deputy say, "We need to check and make sure he doesn't have any drugs under his nuts."
And yet another remembered hearing a Hamilton County deputy say, "let's see if there's anything here" before reaching under the man's legs.
Five of the 15 officers interviewed (excluding Carson and the suspect) remembered seeing this happen. And one officer said he thought, "Wow, I have never seen anything like that before."
The following month, the suspect told the GBI that a light-haired officer picked him up by the testicles, squeezed and slammed him onto the car's trunk. He confirmed being treated for a ruptured testicle, and officers who were at the hospital with him said they overheard staff talk about the man's injuries.
Carson admitted to feeling the man's testicles because he wanted to "do a thorough search for weapons and contraband." But he denied doing so hard enough to cause injury.
He told investigators he had the man bend over the patrol car in order to more easily search him because he (Carson) was 6 feet, 5 inches tall with bad knees.
The internal affairs investigation determined that, "even though [the man] was possibly being uncooperative and possibly pushing back against the officers," the man was handcuffed and there were numerous officers there who could have assisted with the physical search.
"These physical strikes were unjustified and those alone show excessive force by Sergeant Greggory Carson," the investigation's final conclusion reads. "The punch/grab strike to [the man's] groin along with the admitted squeezing of [the man's] testicles during the search was also extremely excessive."
The report also noted that Carson "failed to act as a supervisor and a leader once he arrived on scene."
Video shows the deputies were still very emotional after the pursuit, and only Hamilton County deputies were "acting out verbally [cursing and threatening]," the report states.
Carson did not calm his deputies down as supervisors from the other agencies did by going to each officer checking for injuries, the report states.
"Sergeant Carson instead went hands on with [the man] after [the man] had already been placed in custody instead of handling his supervisor responsibilities," according to the report.
"The actions of Sergeant Greggory Carson on the evening of March 8th, 2017 in Catoosa County Georgia [were] excessive and brought embarrassment to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office."
The internal affairs investigation was completed on April 4 of this year. As a result, Carson received a 24-hour loss of pay. He was transferred to another patrol sergeant position on July 18.
The GBI's criminal investigation, however, was closed on March 14 of this year after a grand jury declined to indict Carson.
"Sheriff Hammond wishes to reiterate to the public that upon being notified of this incident in March of 2017, both the HCSO and Sergeant Greg Carson have been fully cooperative with the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation," Lea said.
As for the man, his attorneys say they "remain steadfast in our efforts to seek justice for [our client]."
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423- 757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.