County commissioners condemned the actions of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday after dashboard camera footage surfaced of a Black man being beaten while restrained by half a dozen deputies.
In the same meeting, the commission unanimously passed the county's budget for the upcoming fiscal year despite calls for divestment from the sheriff's office.
The dashboard video shows Reginald Arrington Jr., a Black man, being beaten with batons and repeatedly called a "piece of s—-" by several white deputies while restrained and pinned beneath six officers after being stopped on suspicion of violating "the pedestrian on roadway law."
Arrington's May 23 arrest happened just two days before George Floyd, another handcuffed Black man, died when a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, spurring worldwide protests, including in Chattanooga.
In the video, Arrington, like Floyd, calls out for his mother as he struggles to breathe.
"Stop, stop, stop, stop stop! No! Ma, they're cutting my air off," he yelled.
The footage comes just days after Sheriff Jim Hammond spoke to the commission's Security and Corrections committee about the death of Floyd and subsequent unrest in Hamilton County.
"The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has the highest level of accreditation we can receive on a national, state and local level," Hammond, who did not attend the virtual commission meeting on Wednesday, said Friday. "You will not find an agency in the United States that has a better compliance record when it comes to how we operate."
When asked about the eight procedural recommendations, or the "8 can't wait" standard, which law enforcement agencies have been called to implement in order to minimize brutality since Floyd's killing, Hammond told commissioners that his office has protocols in place to address each area of concern and to de-escalate a situation like Floyd's.
"We have been in compliance with every one of these long before this incident happened," Hammond said. "Does that mean you will always be able to not have one of those violated? No it does not. When you're dealing with human nature, when you're dealing with hiring people, when you're dealing with police officers who are out there on their own shift, and kind of is their own boss, you will get some bad apples."
'MAD AS HELL'
Commissioners Katherlyn Geter and Warren Mackey, the only Black members of the commission, condemned the beating.
"I ask the sheriff, the mayor and even other commissioners, as the mother of two sons, but my oldest son who's intellectually disabled, if he was walking down the wrong side of the road, and someone called law enforcement on him, what would happen to my son?" Geter said. "Would four white Hamilton County Sherrif's officers do to him what I witnessed yesterday on that video...would they not use the extensive training that the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office clearly states it provides to all of its officers?
"I am deeply troubled and frankly mad as hell about the recurring issues that keep taking place here in Hamilton County," Geter said of several recent brutality issues, which she says deepen distrust and reopen wounds of Jim Crow laws and other racist history. "Enough is enough. We simply can no longer keep doing this. We cannot breathe."
Mackey echoed Geter, criticizing the sheriff and the the county as a whole for a lack of action on race issues including brutality and the removal of Confederate monuments. Security and Corrections Chairman David Sharpe offered his support to Geter and shared her disgust.
"It is beyond my understanding how one can simultaneously beat someone with a 4-pound baton and request of them to relax," Sharpe said, referring to orders that deputies gave to Arrington on the video.
"This is unacceptable. I didn't see any efforts to de-escalate. I didn't see any effort to intervene in this video. These are all things that we were told are required and are trained to happen by our law enforcement deputies. None of it happened," Sharpe said. "I don't know where to go from here but I've heard this dialogue over and over and over again that 'we train for this,' 'we're prepared for these things,' 'we have the highest accreditations'...it's almost as if it's to gaslight somebody, the public for that matter."
None of the other six commissioners addressed the matter, even when specifically asked to do so by a citizen.
A few members of the public called in to share their displeasure with the commission. One, Jasmine Townsend, said she came to the commission with a group of outraged citizens in response to the 2018 beating of Charles "Interstate Tax" Toney by deputies, and has seen no improvements.
"I'm just really disappointed that this has had to be another Black man who was brutalized by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office again," she said. "The evidence that there was no action is because we're sitting here again, talking about the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office brutalizing another Black man on camera."
Another citizen, Jared Story, said that the issue lies in Hammond and his handling of these incidents.
"It's extremely hypocritical the lengths that Sheriff Hammond will go to to defend the due process of his officers, where he doesn't seem to care about the same due process rights for Black, Latino and poor white citizens that interact with his deputies," Story said, then called for the removal of Hammond.
"And No. 2, there's again talk of removing the Confederate statue from the courthouse, and I fully support that. I think it's great that those symbols of the white supremacist legacy of our country are coming down," he said. "But more importantly, we have a Confederate statue as a sheriff who represents the legacy of white supremacy in this country, and I'm more concerned about him being removed from the county than a statue."
Geter called a meeting of the commission's Diversity and Equity committee to immediately follow the body's regular 9:30 a.m. commission meeting next Wednesday at the Hamilton County courthouse.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.