The family of a man shot and killed in April by Hamilton County sheriff's deputies has filed a wrongful death lawsuit and claims the county has refused to provide the names of the deputies involved in an attempt to let the statute of limitations lapse.
Charles Bradley Payne was killed on April 9 after deputies were called to a home in the 9100 block of Broyles Drive in East Brainerd on reports of a "disorderly subject," the Times Free Press previously reported.
The 42-year-old and his mother, Barbara Payne, were arguing when she asked him to leave her house, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday by attorney Robin Flores on behalf of Payne's son, Justice Payne.
But Charles Payne didn't want to leave, and according to the lawsuit his mother threatened to call police if he didn't.
So he grabbed a baseball bat and left.
He returned a short time later and knocked on the door, which is when his mother called 911.
Three deputies responded and found Charles Payne with the baseball bat, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation stated in a news release at the time. Barbara Payne then heard several footsteps, a struggle and a gunshot, according to the lawsuit. Charles Payne died at the scene.
According to the TBI, Charles Payne dropped the bat and brandished a knife, which is when a deputy shot him.
But Charles Payne's family disputes the allegation that he was armed with a knife. His mother claims she never saw him with a knife, and she didn't see him attack the deputies.
DENIAL OF RECORDS
Since the shooting, the Payne family has been trying to learn the identities of the deputies who responded that day.
The family filed an open records request in November asking for the names of the deputies and other records pertaining to the event. That request was denied within a day, with human resources director Carole Miller claiming an open investigation prevented her from releasing any records. Miller did not clarify whether the investigation was criminal in nature.
Requests for certain records are typically denied when there is an open criminal investigation because of Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, which states that only the defendants can have access to the investigative file through the discovery process. In this case, the defendant was killed.
Additionally, a recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision — Scripps Media Inc., et al. v. Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, et. al. — states that "public records created in the ordinary course of business, which are non-investigative in nature, and which are otherwise accessible by Tennessee citizens under the [Tennessee Public Records Act], do not subsequently become exempt from disclosure because of the initiation of a criminal investigation in which those records become relevant."
Because of that ruling, Flores argues that the information his client requested "is not exempt from disclosure as claimed by Carole Miller," according to the suit.
The sheriff's office released the names to the Times Free Press late Friday afternoon after multiple requests to confirm their identities. The deputies were identified as Brandon Bennett, John Robbs and Daniel Rowell, who all are still under internal investigation, sheriff's spokesman Matt Lea said. Rowell, however, left "on his own accord in September to pursue a different career," Lea said.
At the time of the incident, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston asked the TBI to conduct the investigation, as the agency often acts as an independent fact-finder in officer-involved shootings.
The TBI since has finished its investigation, a bureau spokesperson said Friday. And Pinkston is still reviewing the case, DA spokesman Bruce Garner said.
Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor declined to comment.
Flores argues the deputies had a duty to properly restrain Charles Payne without injuring him or causing his death. But the deputies "failed to take steps to prevent harm" to him due to poor training and shoddy hiring practices by the county, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit accuses the county and the deputies of negligence, wrongful death and claims Charles Payne's Fourth and 14th Amendment rights to be free from injury or death while in custody and by excessive force were violated.
The deputies also are accused of battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit asks for $20 million in damages.