This story was updated on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at 7:28 p.m. with additional information.
Collegedale, Tennessee, police Chief Brian Hickman resigned Tuesday after an investigation by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office found that he violated department policy when he pursued a suspect in his personal vehicle in January.
Hickman had been on administrative leave since Jan. 12 after City Manager Ted Rogers learned about the pursuit and asked the sheriff's office to investigate. That non-criminal investigation was completed and sent to Rogers on Friday, according to the sheriff's office.
Hickman is the second top city official to step down within two days. Rogers turned in his notice of retirement on Monday — a week after a city commissioner made an unsuccessful motion to fire him during a public meeting after the firing of parks director Traci Bennett-Hobek following a heated argument about placement of trees in areas of green space. Rogers' last day is March 12.
Rogers "expressed his appreciation for Chief Hickman's many years of service to the city and its citizens," Collegedale spokesperson Bridgett Raper said by email. "Chief Jack Sapp is now the acting chief of police."
Hickman's last day will be Thursday, she said.
According to his letter of resignation, obtained by WTVC NewsChannel 9, Hickman said it was his understanding that he would be briefly reinstated from his recent administrative leave, reporting to work on Wednesday and Thursday "to conduct a proper transition with my staff."
"I understand that I remain in good standing and am eligible for rehire and all other benefits accorded to former employees," he wrote. "I understand that I will receive my current salary and benefits through March 31."
According to records obtained by the Times Free Press, Hickman had his wife and minor daughter in his 2005 Toyota Tacoma on Jan. 2 when he saw one of his officers — Brian Desmond — chasing a suspect who had a registration violation and had just sped through a red light.
After noticing the speeding vehicle, Hickman "told his wife 'that vehicle is running from someone,'" according to the sheriff's office report.
So Hickman decided to continue pursuing the suspect, who had been pulling a trailer, despite Desmond having called off the pursuit, something that was in line with the Collegedale Police Department's pursuit policy, the sheriff's office noted.
"Chief Hickman followed the Ford at normal traffic speeds," Desmond wrote in the pursuit suspect's criminal affidavit.
However, it's not clear how Hickman caught up to the suspect, whom he spotted nearly 3 miles earlier and who was traveling "at a high rate of speed."
Hickman told sheriff's office investigators he kept the vehicle in sight as it traveled north on Interstate 75 and called Desmond to let him know that he and the suspect were traveling on APD 40 in Bradley County.
But, the sheriff's office determined, "based on the video obtained from Collegedale Police, it appeared Chief Hickman made an effort to pull ahead of the suspect's vehicle placing him, the occupants in his vehicle and the occupants of the other uninvolved vehicles in danger from the proven reckless operation of the suspect."
According to the sheriff's office report, Desmond's dash camera allegedly shows Hickman passing a tractor-trailer in a turn lane on APD 40 near Interstate 75. The suspect was passing the same truck on the opposite side.
"Chief Hickman then sped up and got in front of the suspect," the report states.
"The suspect's vehicle then began overtaking the chief's vehicle in the oncoming traffic lane," the report continues. "A bystander's vehicle started pulling out of a truck stop on the left, which forced the suspect to attempt to pull ahead of the chief and move over, at which time the trailer the suspect was pulling struck the left front side of Chief Hickman's vehicle, disabling it by way of a flat tire."
In his interview with investigators, Hickman gave a different explanation of the events.
He said he "pulled ahead of the semi-truck in the turn lane to keep the suspect in sight to relay where the vehicle was going."
It's not clear if Hickman, who was off duty, had radio equipment on his person or in his personal vehicle in order to relay information to dispatch and other pursuing officers. By that time, at least one Bradley County Sheriff's Office deputy had joined the pursuit.
"Chief Hickman stated when he got around the semi-truck he found he was inadvertently in front of the suspect's vehicle," the report states. "He then tried to pull to the side of the road to allow the suspect to pass him. The suspect then swerved over, hitting his truck on the left front fender and tire, disabling his vehicle."
Nevertheless, sheriff's office investigators determined the allegation of "pursuing a vehicle in a non-city owned vehicle" should be sustained.
Collegedale police have a pursuit rate per capita that is nearly seven times that of Hamilton County Sheriff's Office over the course of three years. Law enforcement experts and pursuit policies often note that officers should try to find other, less risky methods to apprehend suspects first, the Times Free Press reported previously. For example, police can often identify suspects via license plates or visual recognition and then serve an arrest warrant at a later time.