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Collegedale Police Chief Brian Hickman testifies during a trial in Judge Don Poole's courtroom in the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Courts Building on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.

Collegedale police Chief Brian Hickman had two passengers — one of whom was a minor — in his 2005 Toyota Tacoma on Jan. 2 when he saw one of his officers chasing a suspect who sped through a red light and decided to continue following the suspect after the officer called off the pursuit.

Hickman was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 12 as a result of his involvement in the pursuit after City Manager Ted Rogers learned about the situation and noted it might violate certain Collegedale police policies, according to a statement by city spokesperson Bridgett Raper.

City attorney Sam Elliott declined any further comment Thursday, saying, "The [Hamilton County Sheriff's Office] is doing what amounts to an internal affairs investigation and it is not appropriate to comment until it is complete and reviewed by the City Manager."

 

The pursuit

Officer Brian Desmond was driving on Ooltewah Ringgold Road when he saw a man pass him while driving a white 1997 Ford Expedition and pulling a black utility trailer, according to records obtained by the Times Free Press. Desmond turned around, ran the man's license plate and tried to initiate a traffic stop when the man pulled into the Circle K gas station on Little Debbie Parkway.

Desmond did not state his reason for looking up the man's license plate information or for initiating the stop.

But the man — later identified as Arthur Wright — did not stop. He headed toward Interstate 75 on Apison Pike, running through the red light at the intersection of Apison Pike and Little Debbie Parkway, which is where Hickman was in his pickup truck, according to Collegedale city court records.

Wright reportedly crossed over into the opposite lanes of traffic "at a high rate of speed," court records state. That's when Desmond discontinued the pursuit.

Officers are instructed to weigh the potential danger to the officer and the public against the potential advantage of apprehending a fleeing suspect when deciding whether to initiate or continue a pursuit, according to Collegedale's pursuit policy.

Hickman, however, chose to follow the suspect onto I-75 and called Desmond to let him know Wright was headed north, according to the criminal affidavit. Desmond then updated dispatchers and asked for assistance from the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.

"Chief Hickman followed the Ford at normal traffic speeds," Desmond wrote in the affidavit.

It's not clear how Hickman caught up to Wright, whom he spotted nearly 3 miles earlier and who was traveling "at a high rate of speed."

By the time Desmond and Bradley County sheriff's deputies caught up to Wright, he was at a red light on APD 40, at least 14 miles away just off Exit 20 on I-75, according to court records.

At that point, Hickman was in front of Wright, Desmond wrote. As Wright passed Hickman, his trailer side-swiped Hickman's truck, according to THP records. The truck sustained damage to its left side and its tire and wheel needed to be replaced before it could be driven.

Neither Hickman nor his two passengers were injured. He did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Wright continued fleeing on APD 40, sometimes driving in the wrong direction, when Desmond called off the pursuit a second time.

But as Wright continued, he struck another vehicle before eventually crashing near a Hyundai dealership and fleeing into the woods, according to court records.

Cleveland police and Bradley County sheriff's deputies brought in tracking K-9 units but were ultimately unable to find Wright.

As police searched Wright's crashed vehicle, they found a glass pipe and several items of possibly stolen merchandise, some of which still had security devices on them, court records state. Desmond then called the Collegedale Walmart's asset protection employee, who confirmed the merchandise was stolen from that store.

It's unclear if Walmart had reported the stolen merchandise prior to police involvement.

Then, on Jan. 11, several Collegedale police officers and two Hamilton County sheriff's deputies went to the 14200 block of Back Valley Road in Sale Creek to serve arrest warrants on Wright.

Wright fled on foot, jumping a fence, through a creek bed and into the woods and was eventually apprehended. He was taken to jail, but while there, he had to be taken to a local hospital where he stayed overnight. It's not clear why he needed medical attention.

Wright was released from the hospital the following day, and his bond was set at $45,000. He is expected in court on Jan. 20, which, according to city attorney Elliott, is when the case "may be resolved."

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.

Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, rhughes@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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