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Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to the crowd during a demonstration supporting the voting rights, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The possible return to duty of a Hamilton County Sheriff's Office detective under federal investigation received attention from a national figure this week — prominent civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In recent weeks, Sheriff Jim Hammond told county Commissioner Warren Mackey the sheriff's office was considering bringing Detective Blake Kilpatrick back on duty.

The detective has been on administrative leave since 2018 while under investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice after a viral video showed him punching and kicking a handcuffed Black man. Kilpatrick's attorney Gerald Tidwell said in a February court filing that he expects Kilpatrick to be exonerated by the investigation.

Concerned about possible community backlash to the personnel move, Mackey scheduled a community meeting Thursday afternoon at the Kingdom Center on East M.L. King Boulevard and invited the sheriff to attend to give a statement or answer questions, Mackey said.

The sheriff initially agreed to attend, the commissioner and the sheriff confirmed. But, on Wednesday afternoon, Hammond backed out.

Hammond said in a statement the Hamilton County attorney advised him not to attend because of the ongoing investigation.

"I had agreed to meet with Commissioner Mackey along with a small group of other African American leaders in our community this evening to discuss this matter," Hammond said in a statement. "It came as a surprise to me yesterday when this meeting was publicly announced by Commissioner Mackey, who also encouraged members of the community and media to attend."

Hammond said he was frustrated the federal investigation has not produced an indictment or investigative findings that would allow him to move forward.

"Pursuant to due process, unless or until the federal government issues a criminal indictment in this case, Detective Kilpatrick cannot and will not be terminated by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. However, as of now, the discussions surrounding his return to light duty have been paused," Hammond said.

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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / During a Aug. 12, 2021 community forum at the Kingdom Center, Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey describes how Detective Blake Kilpatrick punched a handcuffed Black man during a December 2018 arrest.

In December 2018, Kilpatrick was shown in a viral video punching and kicking Charles Toney Jr., a local rapper known as "Interstate Tax," during an arrest. At the time, Hamilton County commissioners and other local leaders said the detective should be fired. Several weeks after the incident, the state dropped charges of assault, resisting arrest and tampering with evidence against Toney.

A year later, in December 2019, Toney sued Kilpatrick, Hammond and the county for $750,000. Court filings said the incident collapsed Toney's lung and broke several ribs and his finger. That case is ongoing and a jury trial in the case is set for June 6, 2022.

Kilpatrick has remained on paid administrative leave. His last known salary was $53,700 a year.

Jackson, who founded the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, learned about the possibility of Kilpatrick returning to field work through Bishop Kevin Adams, senior pastor of Olivet Baptist Church.

The civil rights leader was scheduled to fly into Chattanooga on Thursday afternoon to attend the meeting but canceled after Hammond informed those involved he would not be in attendance.

Jackson told the Times Free Press it would be "morally wrong" to bring Kilpatrick back to duty given the detective's previous actions and the tensions it would create in the community.

In June, a coalition of local clergy appealed to the Justice Department to open a formal investigation of the sheriff's department for its handling of several use-of-force incidents, including Kilpatrick's actions.

Jackson is expected to be in Chattanooga in early September to address issues around the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, voting rights and low vaccination rates in Tennessee. On top of a vaccination event, Jackson said he plans to demonstrate in the city.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga rapper Charles Toney Jr. moves through squad cars on Frazier Avenue during protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Chattanooga.

"We are going to make our presence felt," Jackson said. "If [Hammond] is not going to meet us, we are going to act. Nonviolent, but we are going to act. Hopefully, the sheriff will get the message and do the right thing."

Mackey said he was disappointed Hammond did not attend the Thursday meeting but said Jackson's involvement in the issue is drawing important attention.

"What that does is speak to the seriousness of this whole thing," Mackey said. "When you've got national leaders who are thinking that something that is local to us warrants their attention, that's a big deal."

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

Hamilton County sheriff's statement

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond full statement:

“There have been no concrete decisions made regarding Detective Blake Kilpatrick’s return to duty. The investigation into Detective Kilpatrick by the Department of Justice began in December of 2018. Over two and a half years later, there has been no indictment or investigative findings delivered to me.

“Due to this unreasonable delay, I recently began having conversations with Detective Kilpatrick’s attorneys, individuals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other local officials regarding Detective Kilpatrick’s administrative leave status. I reached out to local elected officials, including Commissioner Mackey, to ensure transparency in these ongoing conversations. I had agreed to meet with Commissioner Mackey along with a small group of other African American leaders in our community this evening [Thursday] to discuss this matter. It came as a surprise to me yesterday [Wednesday] when this meeting was publicly announced by Commissioner Mackey who also encouraged members of the community and media to attend. Because the DOJ investigation into Detective Kilpatrick does appear to be ongoing, I was advised by the County Attorney’s Office that it is not appropriate to have a community-wide conversation about this issue at this time.

“As Sheriff, I am frustrated that this investigation has been ongoing for over two and a half years. Because I am bound by the rules and requirements of civil service, Detective Kilpatrick has been on paid administrative leave since the incident occurred in 2018. Pursuant to due process, unless or until the federal government issues a criminal indictment in this case, Detective Kilpatrick cannot and will not be terminated by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. However, as of now, the discussions surrounding his return to light duty have been paused.”

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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond

 

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