A judge who this week ruled that two fired Chattanooga police officers be reinstated surely didn't see the same excruciating video that the public saw earlier this year. The video shows the officers slamming down dozens of baton blows on a prone federal offender under Salvation Army Halfway House custody. Then it shows an officer kicking the sitting and handcuffed prisoner with broken legs unto his back.
But apparently, the judge did see that video. Administrative Law Judge Kim Summers, in her 30-page order, noted that halfway house inmate Adam Tatum was struck by police baton about 40 times and with a taser multiple times, leaving him with two broken legs, including a compound fracture with bone protruding through the skin.
Although Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd called the actions of officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley "excessive force" and fired them, the judge decided that Tatum brought it on himself.
"Certainly, the use of force and the injuries sustained by Mr. Tatum were not ideal but neither were they dictated by the conduct of officers Emmer and Cooley. As such, it would not be an acceptable ending to this situation to ruin the lives and careers of two otherwise unblemished and promising police officers who came across the path of Mr. Tatum only because he chose to violate his parole by taking cocaine, engaging in violent behavior, and disregarding lawful directives from law enforcement. It was Mr. Tatum, not officers Emmer and Cooley, who set in motion this very regrettable chain of events as well as the unfortunate, but avoidable, conclusion."
Dodd said he was "stunned" by the decision and Mayor Andy Berke said he was "extremely disappointed."
Both have a right to be shocked. No one should view the video of this incident and believe police acted appropriately. The scene was caught on Salvation Army security cameras after Halfway House officials called police for help when an agitated Tatum was kicking a halfway house door and later allegedly pulled a knife on someone there. Yes, Tatum did start the incident. But that doesn't make it OK for officers to beat and batter him. There is conflicting testimony even from the officers about when they became aware that Tatum had a knife.
The police said they told Tatum to roll over on his stomach to be handcuffed. He continued to lay on his back and begged them to stop hitting him. With two broken legs and blows continuing to fall on his head and arms, how easy can it be to roll over? Tatum has sued the city for $50 million.
The judge, in her ruling, talks much about officers falling into "tunnel vision" in the heat of fight and stress, and she states the officers did what their training called for them to do.
"Neither Officer Emmer nor Officer Cooley arrived at the Salvation Army facility with the intent to beat and injure Mr. Tatum but were only using their training and experience to resolve a very difficult and unexpected situation as quickly as possible. ... There were no allegations against the officers of any deliberate misconduct, only that the officers did not use good judgment and that their actions, under very trying circumstances, were not appropriate. However, even with the benefit of hindsight, no one has been able to offer a better approach for resolving the situation," Summers wrote.
If she's right, we should all be very afraid of the men in blue who we expect to protect us and have the good judgment to know how.
If she's right, Chattanooga police training needs a top-to-bottom review and revamp. Beginning immediately.