published Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Chattanooga reaches $88,000 settlement with 2 fired police officers

IN OTHER BUSINESS

City Council voted to approve the hiring of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, Police Executive Research Forum, to recruit a new police chief to replace Chief Bobby Dodd, who retired Dec. 31. The city will pay the firm $35,000.

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    Surveillance video from the Salvation Army on McCallie Avenue shows Chattanooga police officers Sean Emmer, left, and James Smith trying to subdue Adam Tatum.

A 6-3 City Council vote Tuesday evening means that two Chattanooga police officers fired for beating a federal inmate won't return to the force.

The settlement reached between the city and former officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley also means the city must pay an additional $15,000 each to the former officers in addition to back pay and pension contributions for a total of $88,000 between them. The city also agreed to drop an appeal of a prior judge's decision to reinstate the officers.

In return, the officers, who were accused of using excessive force and fired in November 2012, agreed to drop their $500,000 federal employment discrimination lawsuit against the city.

The agreement concludes the yearlong legal battle that resulted after a June 2012 beating left federal inmate Adam Tatum with two broken legs and video of the incident sparked public outrage.

City Attorney Wade Hinton said the officers were awarded a total of $44,000 apiece, with the additional $15,000 payment from the settlement going to more than four months of front pay. Under the terms, the city agreed to rehire the officers and then they effectively resign, said Lee Davis, one of Emmer's attorneys.

This means neither officer will lose his Peace Officers Standards and Training certification and if a future employer contacts the city about Emmer and Cooley, officials would only be allowed to give the dates the officers were employed and when they resigned, said Bryan Hoss, a Davis associate who also represented Emmer.

City Council members were torn on the settlement agreement, with Councilwoman Carol Berz and Councilmen Ken Smith and Chip Henderson voting no. Henderson and Berz said they didn't think the city should pay the officers anything more than the back pay and pension contributions as required.

"If they are going to be awarded additional money I feel like it should come from a judge and not the City Council," Henderson said.

Negotiations had taken place since early December at the same time the city reached a settlement with Tatum. He had sued the city for $50 million, but on Dec. 9 agreed to drop his federal lawsuit in exchange for $125,000.

Hoss called the most recent settlement fair. He also said both officers have already been vindicated by a September ruling from an administrative law judge that ordered Chattanooga to reinstate the pair and give them full back pay.

"These officers were completely vindicated by the administrative law judge's decision. This settlement ensures this decision stands," Hoss said. "These aren't problematic officers. If anything it's a training issue."

Federal authorities found no prosecutable offenses against the pair. A Hamilton County grand jury declined to indict Emmer and Cooley, and an administrative law judge ordered that they be reinstated to their jobs.

Some city officials said it was important that the officers not return to work and that this settlement eliminates that public concern.

"We are pleased to reach a resolution that ensures the resignation of both individuals," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke in a prepared statement.

One local advocacy group that held a protest against the officers being reinstated said they are relieved Emmer and Cooley won't return to work.

"Emmer and Cooley not walking the streets of our city as Chattanooga Police Department officers is a people's victory that wouldn't have been possible without pressure from the community," said Concerned Citizens for Justice member Ash-Lee Henderson.

But Henderson added: "We have a long way to go when the grand jury, the district attorney and the FBI, all see the video that we all saw and not see the actions of Emmer and Cooley as criminal."

Staff writer Beth Burger contributed to this article.

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

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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