A couple who say they were assaulted and blocked by a city police officer while rushing to the emergency room hope a $1.5 million lawsuit will spur the police department to crack down on officers with histories of using excessive force.
Even an apology in June from then-interim Police Chief Mark Rawlston for arresting and charging Jesse Wright after he ran two red lights on his way to Erlanger hospital wasn't enough.
"An apology is retroactive and this is a concern for the future," said Wright, who on Thursday went with his wife, Aline, and his lawyer to file the lawsuit against the city in Hamilton County Circuit Court.
The lawsuit lists 18 counts, including civil rights violations, false arrest, excessive force, assault, infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution, against the city of Chattanooga and police Officer James Daves.
"The damage to [the Wright's] reputation is great," Scott Maucere, the Wright's lawyer, said on Thursday. "This suit is not about money. We want policy changes and to prevent it from happening to others."
Daves has been suspended before for violating rules about the use of force, his personnel record shows. He was suspended for five days without pay in 2008 after internal affairs investigators determined he didn't follow department protocol when he used pepper spray on a teenage girl, according to police documents.
City Attorney Mike McMahan said he was familiar with the case but couldn't comment on the lawsuit because he hadn't seen it. Chattanooga Police Department would not comment on the lawsuit.
On June 16, Wright, a 26-year-old EMT at Erlanger and former combat medic who served two tours in Iraq, ran two red lights while rushing his wife to Erlanger because he thought she was suffering from a stroke. A cancer survivor, Aline Wright, 22, has heart problems from chemotherapy.
A police report by Daves said Wright nearly caused a traffic accident by running the red lights. When he approached Wright at the entrance to the Erlanger emergency department, Daves said Wright, who was carrying his wife because she has a prosthetic leg, pushed him away, according to the police report.
"The defendant yelled and said it was an emergency and that he was an EMT and to leave him alone," the police report states.
A few days later, Wright, still waiting with his wife in the hospital, was jailed on charges of assault on police, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, felony evading arrest, expired registration and two counts of traffic signals violation.
All charges were later dropped and police officials apologized in person to the Wrights.
Daves was placed on paid leave after the arrest but returned to his job a few days after the incident.