published Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Hearing over: Former Chattanooga officers wait and see

Former Chattanooga police officers Sean Emmer, left, and Adam Cooley listen to testimony from Officer Phillip McClain, primary defensive tactics instructor for the department, during a hearing to appeal their termination Wednesday in the City Council chamber of City Hall in Chattanooga. Emmer and Cooley were fired in November after their involvement in the beating of federal halfway house member Adam Tatum last June.
Former Chattanooga police officers Sean Emmer, left, and Adam Cooley listen to testimony from Officer Phillip McClain, primary defensive tactics instructor for the department, during a hearing to appeal their termination Wednesday in the City Council chamber of City Hall in Chattanooga. Emmer and Cooley were fired in November after their involvement in the beating of federal halfway house member Adam Tatum last June.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

It will be 90 days before an administrative law judge decides whether two former Chattanooga Police Department officers will get their jobs back after they were fired for beating a federal inmate last year.

Wednesday marked the end of a three-day hearing for former officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley before Administrative Law Judge Kim Summers. Remaining witnesses from the department and experts wrapped up testimony.

A total of 57 exhibits were introduced in the case including footage from the beating, audio from officers' microphones, training manuals, internal affairs investigations and training videos.

On June 14, 2012, 37-year-old Adam Tatum had cocaine in his system when he began causing a disorder at the Salvation Army halfway house on McCallie Avenue. He wielded a knife at a fellow inmate and kicked the door of a control room where employees were inside.

By the end of the arrest where more than a dozen officers responded, Tatum had blackened eyes, a broken nose, and had eight breaks to his legs including a compound fracture.

  • Surveillance video shows savage beating by Chattanooga police
    Surveillance video from the Salvation Army on McCallie Avenue shows two Chattanooga police officers using excessive force on an inmate. Adam Tatum, 37, suffered six fractures to his right leg and two fractures to his left leg, including a compound fracture, when police took him into custody after a disorder.
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The department ruled Emmer and Cooley were responsible for most of injuries and fired them last November.

A majority of Wednesday's testimony was given by Chattanooga Officer Phillip McClain, who is the primary defensive tactics instructor for the department's training division. Emmer and Cooley were both trained as cadets by him.

McClain, who initially watched the video footage with no audio, said he told the officers, "Keep your heads up. I believe you guys will be OK." However, he later went back and cited numerous issues with how the officers took Tatum into custody.

He said there was no real attempt to handcuff Tatum throughout the incident.

Bryan Hoss, an attorney representing Emmer, argued that Tatum was in a defensive position as the footage played on a large screen in Chattanooga City Council chambers.

McClain responded, "You're going to see a few instances that will show levels of defensive resistance," McClain said. "But for the most part, I would say 90 percent of the time, Mr. Tatum's actions are very passive."

He said while he defers a lot of judgment calls to officers on scene, he cited a couple of techniques that could have been used to effectively detain Tatum.

Hoss argued that Tatum was pulling his feet under him to try and stand as the baton blows continued from Emmer.

However, McClain likened the situation to a young child recoiling from a switch during a spanking. Tatum's left foot was slightly angled and not underneath him.

The defense brought in its own use of force expert, former Chattanooga Police Deputy Chief Skip Vaughn, who retired in 2007. Vaughn justified the actions of the officers.

"I don't think [Tatum] was planning on going quietly with them in any regard," said Vaughn, who never taught defensive tactics.

He argued that Cooley took control of the situation by coming in and helping the other officers arrest Tatum. He said the officers made attempts to handcuff Tatum.

"I think they did everything they could possibly do at that point," Vaughn said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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