A married couple has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chattanooga and three of its police officers after they claim they were wrongfully detained, searched and one of them was then arrested for something they claim they didn't do.
One of the officers, Skyler Long, arrived at the First Volunteer Bank, located at 1834 Gunbarrel Road, at about 10:16 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2018. In an arrest report, Long states police were sent to the address after a burglar alarm went off in the ATM area.
When he arrived, he said he noticed a silver Ford Fusion that was pulled up to the teller side of the bank "in front of what looked to be like a deposit or ATM system." He says he made eye contact with the people in the car, and they "just stared at [him]."
He motioned for the couple — later identified as Brandon and Devin Jones — to roll the window down and then asked why they were there. The couple told him they were making a deposit.
But because of the time of night, the type of call — a silent burglar alarm — and "the fact that this bank has been the victim of millions of dollars in credit/ATM fraud within the past few months," Long stated he didn't think their answer was sufficient and that they weren't really just making a deposit. He claimed to have seen a "large sum of money" in their hands.
The lawsuit, filed on Sept. 9 of this year, states the couple was indeed trying to "lawfully deposit money into their bank account" at the drive-in window. They had their toddler daughter with them at the time.
The couple's attorneys, M.E. Buck Dougherty III and Adam Holland, viewed bank security footage and police dash and body camera footage in preparation to file the lawsuit. They claim police violated the couple's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable detention, restraint, interference, false arrest and seizure.
The Chattanooga Police Department directed requests for comment to city attorney Phil Noblett's office, as he handles civil litigation.
However, spokeswoman Elisa Myzal did clarify that the department does not have a record of complaint filed by either plaintiff with internal affairs, and the three officers named in the suit are not and have not been under investigation for their response to the call referenced in the lawsuit.
According to the suit, Devin Jones was filling out the deposit slip and had $400 in cash on her lap when Long "did not announce himself and approached Mr. Jones and Mrs. Jones unexpectedly."
After telling him they were making a deposit, the lawsuit states, Long told them, "This Bank is closed. You aren't able to make night deposits, the box is locked and this bank doesn't accept night deposits."
The couple then pointed to the night drop box, "which was clearly designated as such," and told Long they had made night deposits before.
Long asked the couple for identification, but they refused.
"Why do you need our identification?" Brandon Jones asked, according to the lawsuit. "What's the problem, we are making a deposit."
Long then told the couple they were being detained and asked them to get out of the vehicle, but the couple didn't feel safe doing so, according to the lawsuit.
Two other officers, who are only identified by their last name: Cuba and Abernathy, arrived and began questioning the couple.
"Who is this guy and who is that in the back seat," Cuba asked Devin Jones, the lawsuit states. She told him the man was her husband and the child was her daughter.
Eventually, the officers forced their way into the vehicle by using a baton, both the lawsuit and Brandon Jones' arrest report state.
Cuba "reached his hands inside of the vehicle by force, unlocked the door and Officer Long forcefully pulled Mrs. Jones out of the vehicle and slammed her down on the concrete, sat on top of her and put handcuffs on her," according to the lawsuit.
Abernathy then joined, and along with Long and Cuba, entered the vehicle. Cuba drew his gun and "put it in Mr. Jones' rib cage" before grabbing him and handcuffing him.
Cuba then opened the back door and "threatened to take the Minor Child along with Mr. Jones and Mrs. Jones to the police station," the lawsuit states.
At one point, Devin Jones leaned forward to check on her child when Long "aggressively" pushed her back to the vehicle and said, "You need to work on listening, I told you to be still," according to the lawsuit.
Devin Jones was eventually let go, but Brandon Jones was arrested and charged with resisting arrest. Though, "there was no underlying charge levied against him, from which he was 'resisting.'"
In the arrest report, Long states he charged Brandon Jones with resisting stop, halt and frisk. However, the officers didn't tell the couple they were under arrest and didn't read them their Miranda rights, the lawsuit states.
Brandon Jones was released from jail the next morning on his own recognizance, meaning he did not have to post bond, and the charge was eventually dismissed.
The couple is asking for attorney's fees, as well as $20 million in damages for two counts of violation of constitutional rights, and $5 million from the city of Chattanooga for the same violations. They've also asked for a jury trial.