Several law enforcement officers called a Black woman a racial slur and pulled her hair out from the roots while restraining her to collect a blood sample while at the Hamilton County Jail, according to a federal lawsuit filed last month.
The woman, Amanda Wynn, was arrested on Jan. 17, 2020, after failing a sobriety test when Chattanooga police were called to check on a suspicious vehicle just before 5 a.m. in the 2700 block of Woodside Street. They found her asleep in the driver's seat with the vehicle running, according to Hamilton County court records.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Michael Thomas and Neil Thomas, alleges at least 10 unidentified officers from different agencies "used excessive force to obtain a blood sample from the plaintiff following a DUI arrest in which the plaintiff was not driving the car she occupied and the vehicle was parked on the side of a street for an extended period of time."
The lawsuit alleges negligence by Hamilton County, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the city of Chattanooga, saying they did not properly train officers in the use of force. It also alleges negligence by CoreCivic, the private company that formerly operated Silverdale Detention Center, for failing to treat Wynn's injuries.
"As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation but what I can tell you is CoreCivic takes seriously its role and responsibility to provide high-quality health care to every individual in our care," CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist said in a statement.
Chattanooga Police Department spokesperson Elisa Myzal confirmed the arrest in a statement and added, "Since this is regarding pending litigation, CPD can only speak to process and not specifics.
"Generally, when a blood draw is done at the jail from a CPD arrest, the officer is expected to observe the process in order to preserve chain of custody," she added. "The officer is typically not involved beyond that unless an active assault occurs in which he/she may need to intervene. After the blood draw has concluded, the CPD officer is typically no longer involved."
The sheriff's office declined to comment. Tennessee Highway Patrol, the city of Chattanooga and Wynn's attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Wynn's arrest report, a caller reported Wynn's vehicle because it was sitting outside the caller's home with its lights off. She'd been waiting on a friend for about an hour, Wynn later told police.
After the officer tapped on the window of the vehicle, Wynn awoke and "reached for the center compartment of the dash and swept three pills into the floor," the report states.
The officer noted seeing empty beer cartons in the rear of the vehicle, and when Wynn rolled down her window, the officer could smell a "strong odor of an intoxicant," according to the report.
After failing the sobriety test, Wynn was taken to the Hamilton County Jail where she was charged with DUI, drug possession and driving on a revoked license.
The arrest report notes that a "search warrant for her blood was obtained and executed."
According to the lawsuit, once Wynn arrived at the jail, deputies approached her just before 6:30 a.m. to take her blood. She told them she was afraid of needles and declined to submit to the blood draw.
An unknown officer reportedly then brought an "immobilization chair," but Wynn refused to sit in it.
That is when up to 10 officers gathered and forced Wynn, a 140-pound woman, into the chair, the lawsuit states. At least one of them "grabbed [her] by her hair and yanked [her] head back in an attempt to control" her.
During the altercation, Wynn allegedly was dropped head-first on the floor. And her wig was forcibly removed, removing her hair from the root.
"Racial epithets were hurled at her on more than one occasion during the incident in question," the lawsuit claims.
Wynn was then put in a shower cell, "naked and exposed to all person's [sic] who passed by the cell," according to the lawsuit.
Eventually, a "sympathetic" officer covered the opening to the cell, the lawsuit states. And clothing was later provided to her.
She was then transferred to Silverdale, where she complained of severe head and neck pain and was given over-the-counter pain medication until Jan. 24, 2020, when "inmates started a small riot to get jailer's attention" because Wynn had difficulty breathing and fainted, according to the suit.
In her statement, CoreCivic spokesperson Gilchrist said the company "strongly dispute[s] the allegation of a 'small riot' or a disturbance event as described in the complaint happening on Jan. 24, 2020, at Silverdale Detention Center."
Nevertheless, according to the lawsuit, Wynn was released after the Jan. 24 incident and taken to Parkridge Medical Center by ambulance. She was diagnosed with a brain injury, cervical sprain and numerous bruises.
For those reasons, Wynn's attorneys argue, her constitutional rights to be free from excessive force and unreasonable seizure were violated.
They are asking for an unspecified amount in damages and legal expenses, according to the lawsuit.
Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.
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