The blogger with the city’s biggest pen on Monday failed to nail down Andy Berke on the abuse his police department metes out to innocent citizens.
That blogger is David Tulis, his pen is a 180-foot radio tower beaming across Chattanooga, and his failure is not pressing the mayor when in his physical presence.
Mayor Berke is an elusive figure in Chattanooga politics, if Tulis’ experiences are any indicator. Tulis had a chance to confront Mr. Berke at a soiree at Eastgate Town Center, a forum for the four candidates in the mayor race. As Mr. Berke went from table to table greeting people prior to the event, Tulis should have done the unexpected, the startling and effectively accused him of misfeasance in public office (misprison of felony).
He should have raised his voice, called him from across several tables, and asked, “Mr. Berke, are you covering up crimes of two of your police officers against two innocent black people whom they arrested in May without probable cause, kidnapping them, booking them, lying about them on their police reports, lying about them in grand jury testimony and causing untold grief to these two family people? We demand to know.”
This question was the big unasked question of the evening, and Tulis is the one who should have asked it, as he has covered these cases.
1 night of police action, 2 victims
Victim No. 1 is Rochelle Gelpin who lived in Northgate Crossing apartments near Northgate and was told to go into apartment because it is government property before she was arrested on a disorderly conduct pretense in front of her daughter. No. 2 is Hanson Melvin, a family man arrested the same night and required to attend a criminal court hearing in the phony case against him on the day his wife Tarah gave birth to their third child.
Tulis might obtain commiseration in the fact that he told the moderator of the event, Dave Flessner of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, about the cases and asked if he would inquire about proposals to reduce police brutality. But Mr. Flessner had a full agenda and is the city’s leading journalist; there’s no blaming him for not following up on another writer’s story.
Tulis was wrong not to speak up and repents for his failure for not having noisily confronted Mr. Berke about his official silence in the cases. Apparently, with the election just days away, Chief Fletcher will do nothing about disposing of to internal affairs complaints until later, if at all.
Mr. Berke has cover in sitting on the administrative remedy. District attorney Neal Pinkston, a state official, declines to indict officers David Campbell and Jeff Rahn on grounds of perjury and violation of the oppression statuted (TCA 39-16-403).
None of the candidates have discussed police reform along the four main lines proposed in the noted Wexler report of March 2016 — the practice of de-escalation and the use of cover, time and space to prevent officers from killing people who have done nothing worthy of capital punishment. None of the candidates appear interested pressing for a restoration of the citizen to legal equality with officers, who enjoy qualified immunity and what might be called a license to abuse.
Tulis did not heckle the mayor because it would not have appeared proper; it would have been refreshing, unexpected, bold to demand answers. He was a mere drudge. Members of the press in Chattanooga are very tame and mild. Tulis worries that he is becoming like unto the others.
“I’m really sorry that it took me all through the ride home and until just after the moment I arrived in my home office that I realized I had failed and failed and failed,” he said. “I should have asked these questions but I have lost my chance. Berke people don’t answer email, text or phone calls. His campaign manager Tyler Yount doesn’t answer email. His staff does not answer texts or messages. I can’t give away free airtime in interviews on my show with the mayor to find out more about the mayor. He is a candidate hermetically sealed on the third floor of city hall. There’s no way before the vote we can get to the bottom of these rogue cop cases.”
Sources: Chuck Wexler, Guiding Principles on the Use of Force, Police Executive Research Forum, March 2016. http://www.policeforum.org/assets/30%20guiding%20principles.pdf
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