Six of our Hamilton County commissioners, the Hamilton County sheriff, and the five deputies involved in the May 23 beating of a Black man for the crime of walking while Black owe, at the very least, apologies to that man and to every citizen of this county.
Dashboard video shows Reginald Arrington Jr., being stopped as he walked south quietly and peacefully along the side of Old Lee Highway. The deputies were called by a neighbor who said he was walking up to women and "asking them questions and asked her how to get out of the neighborhood," court records state.
After some 20 minutes of talking with the completely compliant man who said his car had broken down, officers handcuffed him on suspicion of violating "the pedestrian on roadway law." Instead of walking on the side of the lane facing oncoming traffic, he was walking with his back to traffic.
The dash video, released Tuesday by Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, shows several officers walking the handcuffed man to a vehicle, then suddenly taking him to the ground, seemingly for no reason.
Then, for five and a quarter minutes, the deputies, all white, beat him with batons — all the while screaming at him to "put your legs down," "put your legs up" and "stop moving your legs." And no matter what Arrington tried, someone hit him again. The most ridiculous command — offered as the officers struck at him over and over — was "just relax!"
Try it. Lie down on the floor and let someone swing a bat into your legs repeatedly and just relax. Just lie still.
Ultimately, Arrington's limp body was picked up and placed in the back of a patrol vehicle. He was charged with resisting arrest, simple assault on police, criminal impersonation (deputies said he lied about his date of birth), pedestrian in roadway and four counts of aggravated assault on police. All of the charges were dropped Tuesday by Pinkston.
Deputies claimed Arrington grabbed the gun of one of the deputies and "made several attempts to pull it from his holster." Dash camera video, however, shows he was already handcuffed and both of his hands appear to be held by a deputy as they walk toward the patrol vehicle.
Sheriff Jim Hammond, just days before the dash video was released but well after this beating took place, told the commission's Security and Corrections committee that the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office "has the highest level of accreditation we can receive on a national, state and local level."
"You will not find an agency in the United States that has a better compliance record when it comes to how we operate," Hammond continued, talking to the panel not about this beating, but about the death of George Floyd, who suffocated as a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes. The Floyd death occurred two days after Arrington's beating here.
Asked about the "8 can't wait" standard, which law enforcement agencies have been called on to implement in order to minimize brutality in the aftermath of Floyd's killing, Hammond told the commissioners that Hamilton County already has similar protocols in place to "de-escalate" a situation like Floyd's
If this case and our police video show those protocols, compliance, accreditation and training, then we need to start over. What Hammond says is the best and highest is anything but what any of us should expect if we're stopped while walking along the side of the road — even if we're on the wrong side of the road.
Pinkston called the video "troubling," and asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to review it. Hammond has ordered an administrative review, but said he won't place the officers on leave. He also lashed out at Pinkston: "Effectively, what General Pinkston has chosen to do is indict my deputies in the court of public opinion prior to facts being presented in a court of law."
Why should six commissioners — Randy Fairbanks, Chip Baker, Greg Martin, Sebrena Smedley, Tim Boyd and Chester Bankston — apologize? Because in a commission meeting Wednesday they said nothing about the matter. Nothing. Even when specifically asked to do so by a citizen.
Commissioners Katherlyn Geter and Warren Mackey, the only Black members of the commission, condemned the beating in no uncertain terms, as did Security and Corrections Committee Chairman David Sharpe.
Geter, saying she is "frankly mad as hell" about "the recurring issues that keep taking place here in Hamilton County," rhetorically asked the sheriff, the county mayor and even other commissioners if her intellectually disabled son were walking down the wrong side of the road, and someone called law enforcement on him, what would happen.
"Would four white Hamilton County Sheriff's officers do to him what I witnessed yesterday on that video? ... Would they not use the extensive training that the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office clearly states it provides to all of its officers? ... Enough is enough. We simply can no longer keep doing this."
Mackey echoed her. And Sharpe, too, called out the sheriff.
"This is unacceptable. I didn't see any efforts to de-escalate. I didn't see any effort to intervene in this video. ... I don't know where to go from here but I've heard this dialogue over and over and over again that 'we train for this,' 'we're prepared for these things,' 'we have the highest accreditation It's almost as if it's to gaslight somebody, the public for that matter."
Frankly, we're mad as hell, too. This has to change.