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The city of Chattanooga reached a settlement last month in a federal lawsuit for a March 2018 incident in which a Chattanooga police officer punched and cursed a 37-year-old man during a traffic stop.

The settlement, $24,000, comes roughly six months after the lawsuit was filed.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice ordered attorneys for Fredrico Wolfe and attorneys for the city of Chattanooga, officer Benjamin Piazza and his colleagues to begin mediating in good faith.

If mediation was not successful, the parties would have had to prepare for trial.

Wolfe and his attorney, Robin Flores, alleged that Piazza used excessive force during the stop and drafted a false use of force report that his supervisors approved, effectively covering up the incident. And three other on-scene officers did not stop Piazza or report the incident, Flores argued.

Piazza also brought several now-dismissed criminal charges against Wolfe and has been investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for possible assault and official misconduct since the Times Free Press published police footage of the incident in January.

The TBI has since finished its investigation and turned its findings over to the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office for review.

District Attorney Neal Pinkston's spokesman, Bruce Garner, said Pinkston "hasn't decided what to do with Piazza yet."

In the meantime, until Pinkston decides to either close the case or present it to a grand jury to potentially indict Piazza, the officer will remain on modified duty, or desk duty, until the department completes its internal investigation.

The internal investigation can't move forward until criminal investigations are completed.

Modified duty is determined on a case-by-case basis, police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said. Based on available evidence, police Chief David Roddy decides if an officer should remain on administrative leave or be moved to modified duty. He can also change an officer's status back to administrative leave or permanent leave as more evidence comes to light.

"Keep in mind, the officer on admin leave is getting paid so, if he/she can be put to work in some capacity while they're still getting paid, we try to do that when possible," Myzal said.

Officers who are under administrative or modified leave 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 and would create a form of double jeopardy.

While on modified duty or administrative leave, though, officers cannot represent themselves as a police officers unless they are subpoenaed to be in court. They also cannot wear a uniform, drive a city vehicle or carry a department-issued weapon.

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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