Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston has challenged a defense attorney's accusation that Chattanooga police are withholding evidence in the case against a motorist accused of hitting and killing an officer and called the accusations "inflammatory" and "offensive."
Ben McGowan, attorney for Janet Hinds, has claimed he is missing evidence that could include body camera footage in which other officers are heard talking about the possibility of a second vehicle striking Officer Nicholas Galinger.
Galinger, 38, was struck by a vehicle while he was inspecting an overflowing manhole in the 2900 block of Hamill Road just after 11 p.m. on Feb. 23, 2019. The driver fled the scene.
Hinds, 55, turned herself in to authorities nearly 48 hours later.
McGowan has claimed that, based on the 105 body camera videos he received through the evidence discovery process, there was an initial belief from officers at the scene that a second vehicle ran over Galinger while he was on the ground, and that a person in the second vehicle was interviewed by another officer. But that officer's body camera footage or written report was not released, McGowan claims. He has also asked for a report or interview with Galinger's field training officer Jarrod Justice.
In his response filed Friday morning, Pinkston stated that no such reports exist, and that not every officer reporting to a scene is required to create a report. Justice's body camera captured all of his statements from that night, he said.
As for the interview with the second motorist, Pinkston clarified that it was actually a Hamilton County sheriff's deputy who spoke to them, and that "[a]ny footage maintained by HCSO was lost due to technical issues." (The county doesn't have body cameras, though some deputies have microphones attached to their bodies to capture audio.)
In a letter hand-delivered to the DA's office on Feb. 25, Pinkston said, the sheriff's office disclosed that "a server containing in-car video has had a software failure and the HCSO has experienced unrecoverable data loss of in-car video footage" between Oct. 25, 2018, and Jan. 23 of this year.
But, Pinkston said, the conversation can be overheard through another officer's body camera who was standing nearby.
Additionally, Justice turned away from the second vehicle, which shows he "could not observe whether or not a second vehicle ran over Officer Galinger," Pinkston states. And an autopsy "showed no signs of a second impact" or that Galinger was run over while lying on the road.
Another piece McGowan claims is missing is camera footage from properties along Hamill Road.
Pinkston said those videos were inadvertently left out of the case file because they are in a format that's incompatible with evidence storage systems used by police. The footage will be provided in the future, Pinkston said.
McGowan has also asked for any digital scans or crash reconstruction materials.
Pinkston said those scans are useless "[u]nless an individual has appropriate software" to view them, but that they are available for viewing in person at the Chattanooga Police Department or could be converted into an exportable format to provide to another traffic reconstruction expert for review. He said, though, the defense would have to let prosecutors know to whom to send that data.
Finally, Pinkston said it was "totally false" that prosecutors left out photos taken by witness Christopher Dahl just minutes before Galinger was struck of the overflowing manhole and a fallen warning sign. The photos were documented and provided to the defense, he said.
McGowan had also asked for any reports of interviews with Dahl, but Pinkston said "[s]uch an interview is not legally required or necessary."
"Nothing prevents defense counsel from interviewing Christopher Dahl," he said, adding that "the defense posture on Christopher Dahl is beyond perplexing."
Pinkston noted Dahl had been interviewed by at least two local news outlets, including the Times Free Press, and had gone before the Chattanooga City Council.
The news articles and the city council minutes are both "equally accessible" to both the state and the defense, and "[t]he State of Tennessee is not obligated to provide equally accessible information to the defendant," Pinkston wrote.
"A simple request to meet with case prosecutors or members of the Chattanooga Police Department would have clarified these matters without burdening the Court," Pinkston argued.
McGowan's claims "lessen the sanctity of the state criminal justice system [and] lack the necessary decorum of the court," he added.
A hearing on the matter will be held on Monday morning. Hinds' defense has subpoenaed police Chief David Roddy to testify and produce documents relating to the police department's policy on investigating matters involving their own officers.
Two other officers have also been subpoenaed, though the city of Chattanooga has filed a motion to stop the subpoena of Roddy.
Contact Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.