published Monday, March 25th, 2013

New security video could help Chattanooga officers involved in beating get their jobs back

Surveillance of Tatum and police
  • 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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Should the cops involved in the Salvation Army beating get their jobs back?

Adam Tatum's blood seemed to be everywhere.

It was all over the floor of the Salvation Army halfway house, spilled by repeated blows from the batons and fists of Chattanooga police officers.

Officers who responded to the scene well after the mayhem was under way took care to step around the blood. Most paid less attention to the struggle going on in front of them, passing through on their way to make sure other inmates were contained.

Though public outrage followed last month's release of video that showed Tatum being struck more than 40 times in six minutes, fellow officers who were there have defended the actions of Officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley.

And their attorneys believe that supplementary video showing a different view of what happened that night supports their contention that the officers acted with appropriate force in the face of a threat.

Emmer and Cooley delivered the primary blows to Tatum and were fired over the incident last year by Police Chief Bobby Dodd.

Though the onslaught broke both Tatum's legs, the attorneys believe the video will be enough to get the officers' jobs back when they go before an administrative law judge April 4.

"The video is going to show that. There was a weapon. There was a crowd. There was resistance," said Bryan Hoss, one of Emmer's attorneys.

There was also blood.

"We had blood all over us," Cooley said. "I had it all over my boots, all over my knees, all over my arms."

Cops are bound together by blood. And the actions and attitudes of the officers who responded that night underscored the blood brotherhood they share.

Suspects get what they deserve when they threaten officer safety, as some in the law enforcement community put it. Emmer told other officers shortly after the beating that Tatum had a knife.

The severity of Tatum's injuries and the numerous officers who witnessed what happened could have been enough to trigger an internal investigation. Yet some question whether justice ever would have been done without the video, and even then, what took so long.

Dodd has some of the same questions and has opened a new internal affairs investigation into the handling of the video and into the supervising officer at the scene, both for his actions that night and in other cases.

Meanwhile, questioned by internal affairs investigators, the officers who were there said they saw nothing alarming about what happened at the Salvation Army facility on McCallie Avenue, according to audio files of their interviews.

One of the officers keyed the radio and said between labored breaths: "Step it up! They're trying to come through the door on us."

Officer Daryl Slaughter told investigators he remembered running hot to the call.

"Very seldom do you ever hear a fight last that long," Slaughter said. "I'm sure for them it probably seemed like it lasted forever."

Slaughter told investigators he didn't see anything wrong with Emmer booting Tatum once the federal inmate was seated outside and handcuffed.

"Somebody said that [Tatum] actually had a handful of gravels. I didn't see it," Slaughter said.

"I didn't think anything about it. He was getting up, sitting up. He was full of blood. ... If I was there, and I had been standing there, I would have done the exact same thing just because I wouldn't want to touch him with all that blood," he said.


Video was still rolling as officers brought Tatum under control and escorted him, limping, from the halfway house on June 14, 2012.

Nearly a dozen Chattanooga police officers looked on as Emmer, biceps bulging, peered down at Tatum, who was handcuffed and sitting on the brick ledge of a walkway outside.

Some of the officers still had Tatum's blood on their blue uniforms.

Emmer had put Tatum in a choke hold, which is prohibited by the department's use-of-force policy. He had unloaded blow after blow with a metal baton until Tatum's legs broke in eight places, including a compound fracture.

Before the crowd of uniforms, Emmer began to re-enact part of the struggle with Tatum.

"I'm on the ground with him and we're fighting," Emmer says.

He tells the other officers that Tatum had a knife. He said he did not know Tatum was armed until he began fighting him. The knife was taken away early on, the video shows.

"What were you going to do with that knife? What were you going to do with that knife?" Emmer yells at Tatum.

In a moment of agitation, he takes his boot to Tatum, who is rocking back and forth, to sit back down. The kick sends Tatum falling backward.

Sgt. Darrell Turner, the supervisor on scene, was standing behind Emmer and saw the blow, only removing Emmer after the swift kick was delivered.

In all, 17 police officers responded to the Salvation Army halfway house that night.

Of those who watched a handcuffed man get kicked, none of them -- including Turner -- went to internal affairs. When Turner arrived, he walked in on about four officers -- including Emmer -- struggling to secure Tatum.

Turner has since received a written reprimand for failing to get the officers off Tatum afterward and for not referring the incident to internal affairs.

Turner, who has been with the department for 25 years, has been the subject of 11 citizen complaints alleging improper use of force since 1990. Only one was sustained. Two administrative complaints are pending, according to an internal affairs file. One of them, stemming from the aftermath of the Tatum case, is based on allegations that he has allowed officers to beat suspects on a number of occasions.


Nearly a dozen days passed after the beating before Dodd received a letter from Tatum's then-defense attorney, John Wolfe, telling him to preserve the 39-minute video from the Salvation Army.

The June 24 letter signaled to Dodd that something had happened on a call, he said.

"We had to find out what the video was about," Dodd said in a recent interview. "But immediately when we saw the video, we began an investigation."

The results prompted Dodd to fire Emmer and Cooley and contact prosecutors and federal authorities about pressing charges against them.

However, a source at the Salvation Army who insisted on anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the department had the video within 24 hours of the incident.

So why wasn't internal affairs notified sooner?

Dodd said the footage was received just after the incident and adapted by CPD's information technology department. The video was to be used by former Major Crimes Detective Michael Wenger, who was investigating Tatum over an assault against another inmate.

Wenger said he didn't notify internal affairs because administration already had the video.

The video was requested by Capt. Jeff Francis, who oversaw the downtown patrol Bravo district, for a criminal investigation. He has since died. It's unclear whether Francis ever watched the video. Those close to him at the department said he never viewed it, Dodd said.

"If I knew about it that morning on the 14th, I would have started [the investigation,]" he said.

Dodd last week ordered an internal affairs investigation into who knew about the content of the video footage and when they knew it.

In one of Tatum's letters sent to internal affairs, he asked why Dodd was not notified of the incident sooner.

"Why didn't Chief Bobby Dodd know of this said incident the same night or at the latest the very next day, which would have been June 15," Tatum wrote in a Nov. 14 letter.

"Why are only two police officers being held accountable for their inappropriate, unprofessional, and cruel actions when there were five polices [sic] in all total involved in the physical and brutal beating of me?"


Department history shows that even when an officer risks being ostracized by stepping forward to report questionable or improper conduct, not much happens.

Wenger was suspended in 2005 for using excessive force during an arrest, according to news reports. But he insists that when he struck a suspect who had his arms raised in apparent surrender, the man actually was giving him a "bring it" signal. Wenger since has been promoted to sergeant.

"I don't like dirty cops," Wenger said recently, standing at the scene of a shooting, watching investigators grab yellow evidence markers and duck underneath crime scene tape.

As a detective last year, he reported a captain over a disputed cellphone that Wenger said was evidence in a homicide. The phone belonged to the captain's niece, and he ordered Wenger to leave the phone.

Though phone records seemed to support Wenger's statement, the captain said he didn't recall the incident. Administrators in September ruled in favor of the captain because there was no proof he lied, Dodd said.

In a 2009 case, under former Chief Freeman Cooper, Sgt. Jonathan Bryant was punished after a subordinate reported that Bryant choked a suspect who was handcuffed and secured in the back of a patrol car.

Bryant received a letter of reprimand. The officer who reported the supervisor later asked for, and was granted, a transfer.

Last summer at Riverbend, a fellow officer reported to a sergeant that a traffic officer was suspected of drinking alcohol before reporting for duty. When Sgt. Chad Sullivan, the officer in charge, failed to take action, he was suspended for 28 days.

Questions have been raised about why Sgt. Darrell Turner did not receive a harsher punishment for ignoring Emmer's kick to a handcuffed and seated Tatum.

"[Sullivan] was too busy playing bodyguard for Lauren Alaina on the Coke Stage -- where he wasn't even supposed to be," Dodd said.

"Turner responded with his officers [to the Salvation Army] and made two minor mistakes, but at least he was on his job and performed most of his duties correctly. Sullivan had a three- or four-hour prior warning that [the traffic officer] was drinking and chose to ignore it. Could have cost several people their careers and/or their lives."

Norman Baldwin, a political science professor at the University of Alabama, has researched whistle blowing within police departments. He said the more egregious the offense, the more likely officers are to report it. After watching unedited footage of Tatum's beating, he said it's unclear why no one stepped forward in this case. He said all departments have a culture of their own.

"I believe that most individuals who become police officers have a true respect for the law. It is one of the reasons they are attracted to law enforcement. They will report officers who break the law and behave unethically," he said.

"It is a tragedy that a few bad cops shape the images and opinions of all the good cops who protect our communities with keen judgment and respect for victims of crime and those accused of crime."


When questioned by internal affairs, Emmer said he booted Tatum, who was handcuffed and seated, because he thought the inmate was going to spit blood.

"I push him because, one, I don't want him to spit on anyone else," Emmer told an internal affairs investigator. "I definitely don't want his blood on me anymore than I already had. Two, I'm not going to let him stand back up."

The investigator pressed Emmer: Was a handcuffed man with a compound fracture really going to get back up?

"I didn't really know he had a broken leg," Emmer replied. "I remember him telling me, 'You broke my leg.' I didn't know for sure he had a broken leg, but he did walk out of the Salvation Army."

Dodd said Tatum was both a suspect and a victim that night.

On the video, Dodd said, it appeared Emmer lost his temper. There's no evidence in the video that he was trying to spit on officers.

Emmer "is mad. His blood pressure is up. His adrenaline is up. This guy for whatever reason, is sitting up and adjusting himself. ... but he shouldn't have kicked him," he said.

During the beating, Cooley said he punched Tatum "as hard as I could with my left hand right in the nose." And Tatum asked in a calm voice, "Why you do that to me, man?"

Cooley said it was an example of how nothing seemed to faze Tatum, who was high on cocaine, according to police and medical reports.

"I fought a bunch of guys. I never fought somebody that strong," Cooley told investigators.

Tatum's sister, when asked about his recovery, smiles quietly and says, "He's strong."

Tatum will be released from custody May 31 after completing his remaining federal time.

Dodd said there will be a follow-up meeting for all officers involved once a federal investigation into the actions in the Tatum beating concludes. An email has been sent out reminding officers about the appropriate use of force.

"You have cops here who think this is an absolute case of aggravated assault and both officers should have been fired and put in jail," Dodd said. "And you have officers in the building who don't have all the details and think the officers were done wrong.

"It was excessive. It was abusive. They should have been fired, and in my opinion, they should have been charged," Dodd said. "I think that we, as an agency, have to let that go through the process. That's why I brought in the FBI.

"I didn't want anyone outside our agency demanding we do that because we can police our own."

Staff writer Joan Garrett contributed to this report. 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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