Note: This story was updated on Feb. 10 to correct the outcome of Dennis Clark's brother's 2012 complaint against the Chattanooga Police Department.
A Chattanooga police officer is under investigation after reportedly kicking and removing a city council candidate's campaign sign in front of several witnesses who said he became combative after he was reported.
Half a dozen or more people were eating at the Waffle House on Highway 58 in Chattanooga in the early morning hours Tuesday when the officer allegedly made an abrupt U-turn in front of the restaurant around 1:30 a.m.
Witnesses said the officer then tore down one of District 5 candidate Dennis Milton Clark's signs, which was posted in a median along with the signs of several other mayoral and council candidates.
"So he actually went up to the sign and kicked it until it came down," said MaKayla Haywood, who was at the restaurant with her father and brother when it happened. "Then he got mad because he had seen a bunch of people in the window looking."
According to MaKayla and her father Michael Haywood, an employee of the Waffle House called the Chattanooga Police Department to report the officer after he left. Then, a few minutes later, the officer returned to the restaurant to address the incident.
"Not only did he kick it, but he tore it off one of the freaking poles and he laid it on the ground," Michael Haywood said Tuesday. "And he was just a little bit beside himself and came back up to the Waffle House to try and be intimidating."
The officer, who witnesses and Clark later identified as Officer Jeremy Williams, was reportedly angry that he had been reported.
"He came flying back and made a right turn into the Waffle House, jumped out his car and came into the place like he was going to whoop everybody's ass in there," Haywood said. "Then he said, 'The reason why I took the sign down was because it was obstructing traffic. I saw a lot of people standing in the window so that's why I came back over here. So does anybody have anything to say? Anybody have any questions? Because someone called us and that's why I came over here.'"
In a statement to the Times Free Press on Tuesday, a Chattanooga police spokesperson said the officer involved, whose identity they would not confirm, is under investigation.
"The Chattanooga Police Department Internal Affairs Unit is investigating the conduct of the officer said to be involved in this situation. While on duty, officers of the CPD are expected to carry out their duties in an apolitical manner," Elisa Myzal wrote. "If the investigation determines that objective was not upheld the officer can and will face disciplinary action in accordance with the [department's] employee disciplinary matrix."
Clark, whose brother was paid a $3,000 settlement after suing over his treatment during a disorderly conduct arrest in 2012, said that he supports police but fears certain attitudes.
"Today it was my sign because someone doesn't like me, maybe because I'm Black, maybe because I'm a Democrat, or maybe because I support, vocally, police reform," he said. "But I'm a Black male in America and I have to take this seriously because what if this guy pulled me over and it wasn't my sign, it was me?"
After filing an official complaint with police on Tuesday, Clark went out to repost the sign, which had a distinct dirty footprint on it and had been visibly ripped from the zip ties that previously held it up.
"This is crazy," he murmured while hammering the poles back into the ground. "A police officer."
Clark said he doesn't want the officer fired, especially during the pandemic, but hopes the police department will take him out of District 5, to prevent any interaction between the two.
"I like to support police, and I'm even being endorsed by Glenn Scruggs, the assistant police chief," Clark added. "But we've got to reform police and stop it when one of the few bad ones does something that's violent or may lead to violence later."
Waffle House personnel declined to comment on Tuesday.
The Chattanooga Police Department declined to provide any footage of the incident or recording of the call to dispatch until after the internal investigation is complete.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.