published Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem: Fired Chattanooga policemen settlement not likely

A plan to negotiate an out-of-court settlement to a legal battle involving two Chattanooga police officers fired for beating a federal inmate is likely off the table, according to a city official.

City Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said former officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley, who were accused of using excessive force and fired in November 2012, simply asked for too much in negotiations with the city.

One of the stipulations was that their records be wiped clean.

"It was totally unrealistic," Hakeem said. "If we had settled this on their terms it would have been detrimental to law enforcement in the community."

Hakeem revealed that negotiations were taking place early this month at the same time the city reached a settlement with Adam Tatum. He is the inmate who suffered two broken legs in the beating and had sued the city for $50 million. On Dec. 9, Tatum agreed to drop his federal lawsuit in exchange for $125,000.

The back and forth between the city and Emmer and Cooley's attorneys was over two other pending lawsuits. One was filed by the fired officers; the other is a city appeal of a judge's decision ordering the Chattanooga Police Department to reinstate them.

City Attorney Phil Noblett said he couldn't comment on the pending cases and neither attorneys Bryan Hoss nor Jonathan Guthrie, attorneys for Emmer and Cooley, returned calls Monday seeking comment.

The beating in question took place June 14, 2012, when officers responded to a disorder call at the Salvation Army halfway house on McCallie Avenue. A video camera captured the fight, showing that Tatum initially had a knife and officers used a stun gun and pepper spray before striking him more than 40 times with their batons.

Both officers were fired in November 2012 after a disciplinary hearing. Yet a Hamilton County grand jury declined to indict them and federal investigators never filed charges against them.

The video was released in late February of this year, sparking public outcry.

In September, an administrative law judge from Nashville ruled that the pair should be reinstated and receive back pay. The city filed an appeal in Hamilton County Circuit Court that is still pending. The appeal stayed the officers' reinstatement even though the city was forced to give the officers back pay. They are currently on paid leave.

In November, Emmer and Cooley sued the city for $500,000 in a federal employment discrimination lawsuit claiming that the city imposed "an untrue and unjust stigma upon" them professionally and personally, which has "denied them the freedom to take advantage of other employment opportunities."

On Dec. 20 the city filed a motion to partially dismiss the lawsuit against the police department and Chief Bobby Dodd on the grounds that the police department isn't an entity that can be sued and Dodd is an individual, not the employer. City attorneys also argued that fellow plaintiff the Tennessee State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, which paid legal fees for the pair, should be dismissed from the case because it is suing the city to recover legal fees, which is not a provision under state law.

Hakeem had said there was talk of letting the officers return to work, but not be allowed to go back on patrol. But when Emmer and Cooley's attorneys came back with an offer, Hakeem said it included too many demands and the City Council wouldn't accept it.

"They took [the city's] desire to get all of this resolved by the end of the year as weakness," Hakeem said. "I assume they felt they had a stronger position than what we believe they do."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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