Note: This story was updated on Feb. 10 with more information.
The Chattanooga Police Department has cleared an officer accused of damaging and removing a City Council candidate's campaign sign.
The department conducted a brief internal affairs investigation this week after District 5 candidate Dennis Milton Clark complained about a campaign sign of his being removed by Officer Jeremy Williams early Tuesday.
Clark filed a complaint with the department after multiple witnesses who were dining at a nearby Waffle House reported seeing the officer stomp and remove the sign around 1:30 a.m.
The department investigation, concluded Wednesday, found "no evidence indicating the officer violated any department policy or law," according to a news release.
The release states that the officer attempted to fix the sign that was obstructing traffic in the median of Highway 58, but was unable to get it to stay, so he removed it and laid it down in the median.
According to police Chief David Roddy, that was within the bounds of the officer's job.
"When a candidate's campaign sign is obstructing view or causing a hazard in the right of way, CPD Officers can and will remove it," said a statement by Roddy. "The officer was doing what's expected of him to help protect motorists and was acting within the letter of the law."
Clark's and three other campaign signs were placed against city sign code, which prohibits placing signs in divided roadway medians — although the department did not say that's why the sign was taken down.
In body camera footage released by the police department, the officer can be heard describing his actions to Waffle House employees and diners after witnesses called the department to report what they saw.
According to the department, the officer's demeanor was calm and clear in the footage, not intimidating as witnesses told Clark and the Times Free Press.
Police were also contacted by a citizen who, while he did not witness the removal of the sign, said he had noticed it blowing into the roadway when he passed by it and almost stopped to move that sign himself, but decided not to due to safety concerns.
Body camera footage of the removal of the sign is not available because Williams did not record that action. Footage is not required for any non-investigatory action under department policy.
Still, Clark said the department did not do a thorough investigation and questions the way Williams handled the sign, which was found the next morning detached from more than half a dozen zip ties and two metal poles. The sign bore a distinct muddy shoe print.
"My sign is ripped. There's a footprint on it," Clark said Saturday. "There are signs down all over town and they want us to think a good samaritan cop was just going around fixing signs?
"If they cared about citizens's concerns at all, they would have done a thorough investigation."
Specifically, he criticized the police department for not contacting diners or staff of the Waffle House who witnessed the removal of his sign and placed the original call.
"They wouldn't have called the police on the police if he wasn't doing something wrong. And they didn't even bother to ask [the witnesses] about what happened," Clark said. "But they're not actually interested in finding out what happened or they would have talked to them or tried to get the footage of one of the businesses or something."
Clark is still trying to find video footage from nearby businesses.
According to the department report, investigators did seek such footage from another business.
"Internal Affairs went to the location on Highway 58 on February 3rd to observe for possible video footage and to observe the multiple election signs in the median," the report says. "Pandora European Motorsports appeared to have the best vantage point facing the location of the signs and visible cameras were observed on their building. After speaking with management and being allowed to observe their camera software, no angle would have captured the area of the signs in the median. There is an adjacent building where an observed camera potentially could have captured the signs, but the camera was found to be offline per the owner."
When asked why the department did not interview witnesses named in the original Times Free Press report, a spokesperson for the department said witness information was not provided in Clark's complaint.
"The Internal Affairs investigator reviews the complaint that's filed and attempts to contact the complainant. In this case, the letter of complaint did not include witness names and/or contact information, the complainant himself was not a first-person witness to the alleged situation, nor did the complainant return a call after the investigator attempted to contact him," Spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said by email Friday. "The investigator reviewed the officer's [body-worn camera] video that was captured while in the Waffle House since that was the evidence available. It was determined the officer's conduct was not as it was described in the letter of complaint."
Specifically, Myzal said the officer's conduct in the body camera footage does not match the intimidating tone reported by witnesses.
"The officer does not appear to 'intimidate employees,' nor does he 'boast about tearing down the sign,'" she wrote. "His conduct was also not 'rude nor unbecoming of an officer.'"
While the case is closed, the police statement encourages anyone who may have additional information relating to the situation to contact the department's Office of Internal Affairs for review.