A man sued the town of Graysville, Tennessee, last year, alleging that he was arrested on warrants that hadn't been approved by a judge after telling a plain-clothes animal control officer to stop setting cat traps and leave his property.
A year later, the man's attorney says body-worn camera footage of the incident may have gone missing.
According to the suit, Gary Doss, who works for the town of Graysville's public works department, saw a red pickup truck pull up on his property — a trailer park — on June 15, 2018.
Graysville is a small town in Rhea County, not far from the Hamilton County border, with a population of just over 1,500 people.
A woman and a group of other people got out of the truck and started going under his tenants' mobile homes, the lawsuit says.
After being asked, the woman identified herself as a Rhea County animal control officer. The people accompanying her were trusties — inmates trusted with special privileges — from the Rhea County Jail, and they were setting cat traps after receiving a complaint about cats in the area, the suit states.
Around the same time, Graysville police officer Keith Post arrived and told Doss to leave the property, incorrectly claiming the property wasn't his and that Doss was "only a landlord," according to the suit. The argument continued for several minutes, with Doss telling Post and the others to stop going under tenants' homes and leave before eventually leaving himself.
Later that day, Post and Graysville police Chief Julie Tanksley drafted warrants for tampering with evidence, disorderly conduct and "obedience to officer" — a motor vehicle rules violation, which wouldn't have applied to Doss because he was not in a vehicle at the time of the incident, Doss' attorney Robin Flores argues.
Then, without a judge's signature, Post and another officer arrested Doss that evening.
A judge didn't sign the warrants until three days later, but that shouldn't matter because probable cause existed for each of the charges, and an arrest warrant wasn't necessary, according to the officers' response filed in court by their attorney, Reid Spaulding.
Nevertheless, another judge ordered Doss to be released on a cashless bond as soon as he arrived at the jail. And the following month, an assistant district attorney refused to prosecute the case and dismissed the charges.
The city and the police officers have denied any allegations of wrongdoing.
In the response to the lawsuit, Spaulding said Doss "was hostile and aggressive and attempted numerous times to impede legal functions" of the animal control officer, and that Post "had a legal right to be present" on the property at issue.
As the civil case has been making its way through the federal judicial process, attorneys have started the discovery process. That includes requesting and producing evidence, such as documents, videos and depositions. One of those steps is called an interrogatory — a list of questions that one party poses and the other party is to answer truthfully under oath.
In one of those interrogatories, the city recorder noted having seen body camera footage of the incident, which she cited as the reason she chose not to discipline any city employees, including Doss.
But when Flores requested that same footage, it was nowhere to be found.
In an email attached to a motion for sanctions against the city of Graysville, attorney Aaron Wells, who represents the city, informed Flores that "the city does not have a copy, and it is my understanding that the video no longer exists in the city's system."
"To be clear, we have never had a copy of the video since the case was filed," he added.
The city also provided to Flores an affidavit by computer forensic specialist James Wells, who was retained to try to recover the lost footage, which was attached to the motion for sanctions.
James Wells said he inspected two hard drives — an old and new system — neither of which contained a video file for June 15, 2018.
"I determined that on the new system there is a gap from Aug. 6, 2014 to July 19, 2018," James Wells noted.
The video was not found in the deleted folder, either, he said.
In response to learning that information, Flores filed a motion asking a federal judge to impose sanctions against the city and to allow a second data forensic specialist to investigate what data was lost, how and when it went missing, who was responsible for the loss and whether it can be recovered.
The city, through attorney Aaron Wells, declined to comment.
In the meantime, the parties have all asked for more time to mediate the issue and for the city to file a response to the motion for sanction.
For now, U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier has agreed to do that. After mediation, the city has a week to file its response to the motion for sanctions. He will hold off on a ruling until then.
"The city will respond to the motion for sanctions at the appropriate time and in accordance with the court's order on the joint motion," Aaron Wells said in an email.
Spaulding, the officers' attorney, declined to comment.
This isn't the first lawsuit the officers have faced. Late last year, a woman sued the city and the same officers after she was arrested twice for what she claimed were phony charges, with the second arrest taking place after Chief Tanksley watched the woman undress, shower and use a feminine hygiene product.
Tanksley has claimed that the woman "wrongfully threw a bloody feminine hygiene pad" at her, according to a response filed in court. The officers and the city have all denied any wrongdoing.
That case has been put on hold until the plaintiff's criminal charges are resolved.
Additionally, 12th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor has said his office will no longer prosecute Tanksley's cases because Tanksley had previously been indicted by a grand jury in McMinn County, Tennessee, on two counts of extortion after allegedly seizing personal property until the arrestees contributed money to the police department's drug fund.
She was found not guilty of those charges, something the city has cited as its reason for not removing her as chief. And while the city has claimed that Taylor has indeed prosecuted cases in which Tanksley was the charging officer or a witness, Taylor told the Times Free Press that wasn't true.
Contact Rosana Hughes at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.