Collegedale police Chief Brian Hickman told Hamilton County Sheriff's Office internal investigators he "tried to stay as a civilian" as he pursued a suspect in his personal vehicle in January, according to an audio recording of an interview.
But an officer's dash camera footage shows Hickman drove through a painted traffic island, used a turning lane to pass a tractor-trailer and continued driving fast in the turn lane to get in front of the fleeing suspect on Jan. 2. Hickman passed not only the suspect but officers in properly equipped patrol vehicles before merging back into the proper lane of travel, this time in front of the suspect, and hit his brakes, apparently in an attempt to stop or slow the suspect.
By that time, at least one Bradley County Sheriff's Office deputy was in the area.
"I went around the truck in that turn lane just to — because at that point, Bradley County had not activated any emergency lights," Hickman told Hamilton County deputies, who were conducting a non-criminal investigation.
In fact, the Bradley County sheriff's deputy turned on his emergency lights as soon as Hickman began passing the tractor trailer, according to Collegedale officer Brian Desmond's dash camera video. The deputy then pulled to the side to let Desmond pass him.
"I just wanted to make sure if [the suspect] went anywhere else, I could tell Brian," Hickman told investigators. "But I'd already hung up with Brian."
Hickman goes on to claim that, as he "got around that truck, I'll be damned if he [the suspect] didn't get in behind me."
"All I saw in my rear view mirror at that point was him [the suspect], and I had the kind of like, 'Oh, s—-,' so I tried to pull over and get out of the way. At that point he was already passing me, and then he just pulled to the right and hit me with his trailer it took out my tire, so we were done."
Before they reached that point, Hickman said he didn't think the suspect — identified as Arthur Wright — knew anyone was following him. Desmond had called off the pursuit shortly after initiating it, he said, due to its creation of potentially dangerous conditions: the suspect began driving head-on into oncoming traffic, dash camera video shows.
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 has reported previously.
The reason for the initial attempt to stop Wright was for a vehicle registration violation.
"If I remember correct, [Desmond] said that the tag didn't match the vehicle and there was no tag on the trailer," Hickman told deputies. "As you guys know, we've had several stolen cars. That seems to be the going rate these days."
Nine of the 11 charges Wright faced have been dropped. He was convicted of evading arrest and theft of property under $1,000.
According to records obtained by the Times Free Press, Hickman had his wife and minor daughter in his 2005 Toyota Tacoma during the pursuit.
Hickman said he was eventually able to catch up to Wright thanks to Wright getting stuck at some traffic lights just before getting on Interstate 75.
"I was just following at a pretty good distance," Hickman told the deputies. "At this point, you know, several people have asked me, and I'm like, 'You know, it would be like any other civilian that's following on like a DUI,' I was just giving [officer Brian Desmond] a notice of where the guy was, the speeds."
Ultimately, the sheriff's office determined that, "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."
Offices for district attorneys Steve Crump, whose judicial district includes Bradley County, and Neal Pinkston, of Hamilton County, said they had not been consulted regarding any criminal charges against Hickman.
Hickman had been on administrative leave since Jan. 12 after Collegedale City Manager Ted Rogers learned about the pursuit and asked the sheriff's office to investigate. That investigative file was sent to Rogers on Friday, according to the sheriff's office, despite it having been completed on Feb. 1.
Hickman turned in his letter of resignation on Tuesday, stating it was his understanding that he would be briefly reinstated and would work until 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."
Hickman, Rogers, city attorney Sam Elliott, human resources director Kristen Boyd and city spokesperson Bridgett Raper did not respond to multiple attempts to clarify why or how Hickman would remain in good standing and be eligible for rehire if the policy violation was sustained.
In an emailed response, Mayor Katie Lamb said, "No Comment."
Hickman was the second top city official to step down within two days. Rogers turned in his notice of retirement on Monday — a week after city commissioners made unsuccessful motions to fire him or have him resign 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.