STORY UPDATED AT 7:43 p.m. Saturday, July 13, 2019
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP on Saturday characterized a roadside body-cavity search that placed two white deputies on administrative paid leave as aggravated rape and pleaded for criminal accountability from law enforcement and unity from citizens in order to bring an end to police brutality against people of color.
"We have had enough of this kind of animalistic brutal behavior against people of color in this community," NAACP President Elenora Woods said during a press conference. "We are here to say we are ready to stand united [and] to those in law enforcement who can do something about it, you need to do something about it, and you need to do it now."
Woods' comments followed the release Friday of dashcam footage that showed Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies Daniel Wilkey and Bobby Brewer kicking, punching and stripping the pants off of James Myron Mitchell, a 41-year-old black man. The video shows them performing a body-cavity search on Mitchell on the side of the road in Soddy-Daisy as both he and his traveling companion, Latisha Menifee, are handcuffed.
Chattanooga attorney Robin Flores, who is representing Mitchell and Menifee, said medical documentation showed Mitchell suffered "physical anal injuries" as a result of the encounter and pointed out that only a physician or nurse can conduct a body cavity search after getting either a search warrant or written consent, neither of which the deputies had.
Flores said he plans to file a civil complaint in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court, described the incident as a modern lynching and added that Mitchell will cooperate with any authorities investigating the matter. After the press conference, Flores transported Mitchell to Marion County, Tennessee, where the 41-year-old faces outstanding warrants for aggravated assault and two other charges that happened around February.
Sheriff Jim Hammond, who stood by his deputies Friday and defended "their ability and their training," said Saturday the alleged female victim in the Marion County aggravated assault case saw a video of Mitchell on the news and wanted to press charges. Hammond declined to comment on Saturday's press conference, saying he does not comment on ongoing investigations. Flores said his client did not know about the outstanding warrants but is cooperating and said, "we will show that they got the wrong guy."
On Friday, Hammond rebutted members of the NAACP who questioned the level of racism in his department and decried that not much had changed since the last publicized incident of brutality by one of Hammond's deputies, Blake Kilpatrick, who was captured on video in December 2018 punching and kicking a 25-year-old handcuffed black man during an arrest on an outstanding warrant for drug charges.
Activists and other community members previously criticized Woods for inviting Hammond on stage during the county's annual Jubilee Day Celebration — which is often celebrated as the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — and praising his handling of the Kilpatrick investigation. But on Saturday she had a different tone, noting there's "not been any justice in the previous case" with Kilpatrick. There have been no recent announcements in the U.S. Department of Justice probe into Kilpatrick's alleged brutality.
Woods, Flores and other NAACP members said Saturday that authorities need to firmly address Wiley's and Brewer's alleged violations, otherwise it's sending the wrong message to law enforcement that it's "open season" on people of color. In a separate statement, the Unity Group of Chattanooga called for a "change in the culture of law enforcement and policing" and described the incident as a direct violation of Mitchell's and Menifee's constitutional and civil rights.
Vince Champion, the southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said Friday that the dashcam footage, which was released by District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's office, does not show the full context of the situation. The sheriff's internal investigation and the probes Pinkston requested from the U.S. Attorney, Gov. Bill Lee's office, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation may turn up other facts, Champion said. He could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Still, Melinda Mitchell, who is James Mitchell's sister, said this incident follows a long tradition of brutality that African American men and women have come to expect from law enforcement.
"What has happened to my brother, nobody deserves that," she said. "And it's sad that as an African American we have to have conversations with our young black men and young black women on how to act when they get stopped by police officers."
Indeed, in the dashcam footage, one of the deputies tells James Mitchell his treatment wouldn't have happened if he wasn't resisting. But James Mitchell replies in the footage that if he were really resisting, the deputies "would have hit me with [a stun gun] and then shot the s--- out of me."
According to a criminal affidavit he filed, Wilkey pulled a gold Buick over in Soddy-Daisy around 9:27 p.m. Wednesday because the window tint was too dark and he smelled the odor of marijuana on an otherwise empty country road. Wilkey wrote the passenger, James Mitchell, told him he had smoked a joint and kept reaching in his waistband against orders.
Mitchell's alleged resistance resulted in the officers taking him down to the ground, kneeing Mitchell's upper thigh and a subsequent search that revealed 1.6 grams of crack cocaine, according to the report.
The deputies then knock Mitchell onto the ground. One of them punches Mitchell repeatedly. Together, the deputies then remove Mitchell's pants, shake them out and press him back up against one of their patrol vehicles. From there, one of the deputies reaches his ungloved hand down into Mitchell's underwear and feels around his groin area.
About a minute later, one of the deputies pulls Mitchell's underwear down, and this time, with gloves on, reaches his hand into Mitchell's buttocks area, pulls out a plastic bag and places it on the hood. About two minutes go by while the deputies continue to search in Mitchell's buttocks area. What exactly is happening is not known because it is out of view.
After that, a deputy puts Mitchell into a patrol vehicle, his pants still pulled down.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918. Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at email@example.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @hughesrosana.