A federal civil rights lawsuit against the Chattanooga Police Department by a man who claimed his free speech rights were violated when an officer arrested him as he picketed outside Calvary Chapel Chattanooga was settled Friday afternoon.
"It was a fair settlement for all concerned, and I commend the city for taking the high road and agreeing to mediate a resolution," Robin Flores, attorney for Titus Hartford, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in an email on Friday afternoon. "It's refreshing to see a local government do so."
The $29,000 settlement is pending approval by the City Council on Aug. 9, Flores said. He said it was reached after almost three hours of closed mediation. Flores told the Times Free Press he was satisfied with the result he obtained for his client.
Ellis Smith, a spokesman for the city, confirmed the settlement negotiations had taken place.
"I can't comment further because the case is still pending before a judge," Smith said.
The Times Free Press previously reported on Hartford's 2021 arrest outside the Calvary Chapel Chattanooga on allegations of criminal trespassing. Hartford then sued the city, alleging violations of his free speech rights.
Hartford, who grew up in an evangelical church in Alabama, had been arrested once before as he tried to spread his message at Calvary Chapel.
Body-cam footage of his April 2021 arrest by Chattanooga Police Officer James Elliott showed the officer talking to two people after he arrested Hartford and placed him in the back of the patrol car. In one instance, he was heard telling a woman that Hartford was being a "real jerk."
Later on, Elliott was also heard saying "that's my church" to the woman, adding that Hartford was "not going to be doing that (protesting) this morning because I can't come to church today because I got to work."
At the beginning of the nearly 19-minute-long video, Hartford was seen standing on the sidewalk in front of the church holding a sign that read, "the apostle Paul taught the opposite of what Jesus taught," when he was approached by Elliott, who asked Hartford for his identification.
Later in the video, Elliott was heard telling Hartford — as he was transporting him to jail — that Hartford was "antagonizing" the church and disturbing members. Elliott was also heard debating with Hartford over Paul's message in the Bible.
Hartford had all charges dismissed by Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz in an order filed on May 9. The charges were expunged.
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