At NAACP meeting, Chattanooga mayor says he wants to modify police leave policy during investigations

At NAACP meeting, Chattanooga mayor says he wants to modify police leave policy during investigations

April 15th, 2019 by Rosana Hughes in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke answers questions of NAACP members and others who attended the meeting Monday, April 15, 2019 at the NAACP Headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Berke was invited to a NAACP meeting to address concerns over police brutality among other things.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

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Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said he is working with police Chief David Roddy to review a policy that allows police officers to work while being under investigation for misconduct.

Berke made the comment during an NAACP meeting Monday night where he was invited to answer questions about recent cases of police brutality and other topics, including affordable housing and economic development.

It was an hour-long meeting, during which questions were submitted on note cards by attendees and read to Berke.

The NAACP initiated the conversation with the mayor after a number of cases of police misconduct have come to light, some of which have been followed by civil lawsuits.

"Whenever we have a family problem, we want to come together and have family meetings and talk about it," said NAACP President Elenora Woods.

Roddy or other police department leaders were not present at the meeting, as they had not been invited, police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said. Two officers were in attendance.

During internal investigations, accused officers may be put on administrative leave or put on "modified duty," meaning they do only office work, Roddy previously told city council members. And sometimes, the allegation is of "such an egregious nature" that it's better to have officers stay home while on administrative leave with pay.

But they have to be paid because courts have ruled that an officer cannot be disciplined after being suspended without pay, Roddy has said. That's because withholding payment is viewed as discipline.

In response to how much control he has over police department procedures, Berke said he understands why the police department has to follow that policy, but "one of the issues that that does is it hurts us with with how people perceive the department."

Berke said he wants to modify the policy to better define which officers are placed on modified duty or told to stay home.

Myzal confirmed that Roddy has discussed the matter with the mayor but did not say where that conversation stands.

It's not clear if there already is a structured policy for deciding which officers are placed on modified duty or told to stay home, but Myzal said an officer facing criminal charges would not be considered for desk duty while on administrative leave during investigation.

She said the Chattanooga Police Department has compared its policy to that of other major departments across the country, and it aligns with most.

Here's a look at some recent cases:

» On Jan. 18, police officer Benjamin Piazza was placed on modified duty after the Times Free Press published body camera footage that same day of him punching a 37-year-old man during an arrest in March 2018.

» Also on Jan. 18, officer Daniel Mitchum was terminated after an internal investigation after he was involved in a crash near Exit 4 on Interstate 75 while driving a patrol car on Aug. 24.

» On Jan. 31, Sgt. Cameka Bruce was fired after sustained allegations of insubordination and untruthfulness. She was initially investigated over allegations of missing evidence and improper use of overtime. As a result of the investigation she was offered a last-chance agreement, which puts an officer on notice that future misconduct could result in immediate demotion or termination.

» On Jan. 31, officer Benjamin Dessalines was fired after allegations of insubordination, cooperation during internal investigation, untruthfulness, improper procedure and criminal offenses were sustained. He was arrested in November on charges of felony kidnapping and felony sexual battery after a woman alleged he took her home, fondled her and told her he wanted to have sex with her. Criminal investigations are ongoing.

» On Jan. 31, officer Desmond Logan resigned while under investigation for untruthfulness and two counts of improper procedure. He has been under investigation for what the department called "sexual misconduct" after he was accused of raping at least three women since 2015 while on the job. Criminal investigations are ongoing.

» On Feb. 1, officer Ricky Ballard was suspended for 160 hours without pay after an internal investigation found "extensive evidence" of "a pattern of sexual harassment of female cadets."

» On Feb. 15, officer Caleb Corbin was suspended for 150 hours as a result of multiple separate investigations in 2018, one of which had to do with shoving and then arresting a juvenile at a rehabilitation center.

» Most recently, a $3 million lawsuit alleges that officer Cody Thomas, who was suspended for 80 hours as a result of an April 13, 2018 incident, violated a man's rights, assaulted and injured him, misrepresented what happened and caused him to spend money on legal fees and several criminal charges that were eventually dismissed.

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


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