The arrest of Antonio Bell on Feb. 11 in Chattanooga appears tinged with false report by police, abuse of authority, and appears to be a combination to put a city newcomer from Nashville behind bars for unclear reasons. Because Mr. Bell plea bargained his case and took jail, his testimony and that of an eyewitness, Tarah Melvin, will not be adjudicated in open court, nor the state’s theory of his alleged crimes tested. Figuring in the case is David Bales, a county sessions judge whose accusations against Mr. Bell as a possibly pesky panhandler are used by three Chattanooga police officers to paint him as a much more malevolent character and public enemy.
The state accused Mr. Bell under four statutes or ordinances, including “disorderly conduct,” assault, aggressive panhandling and one other. That other is retaliation against a judge or officer — a bizarre charge that only in the hands of a highly imaginative officer or prosecutor could be made to apply to a case involving a judge purely in his private capacity as an individual and a defendant who had had no court dealings with David Bales and did now know him when he spoke with him as a panhandler.
Indications from Chief Fred Fletcher and district attorney Neal Pinkston are that perjury is acceptable practice among officers. Perjury is a misdemeanor — a crime requiring up to a year in jail — if done on any state form, such as a police incident report. We have reported two cases where officers fabricated cases against individuals and perjured themselves as felonies, since they repeated their lies before a grand jury. Had they just honored the rule for probable cause, they could have prevented themselves from oppressing the citizenry.
We ask if something similar o what happened to Hanson Melvin and Rochelle Gelpin happened here. Below is the affidavit of Tarah Melvin, eyewitness, whose statement corroborates Antonio Bell’s written version and oral recounting of events and casts strong doubt on sworn statements by the department’s officer Joseph Ketron and, behind him, statements of a Hamilton County judge.
I obtained audio and video of the arrest Wednesday, and should update this story within the next day. — DJT
Tarah Melvin affidavit
Describing arrest of Antonio Bell Feb. 11, 2017
By Tarah Melvin
I, Tarah Melvin, of 1664 Greendale Way, Apt. 316, Northgate Crossing Apartments, Chattanooga, do hereby affirm and solemnly swear that the following account of the arrest of Antonio Bell on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, is true and accurate.
I arrived at the neighborhood Wal-Mart in Hixson close to 12 a.m. on Saturday Feb. 11. As I approached the building with my son, Richard Wayne, there was a man sitting out front.
He asked me how I was doing. I replied that I was doing well. He asked me if I could spare some money — any amount would do. He said he was homeless and was just trying to get some extra money. I told him I didn’t have any to give him.
As I stood the checkout line for drinks, milk and chicken, I could see Mr. Bell standing in front of the building. He was talking to a Chattanooga Police Department officer and looking toward me.
When I came out I heard Mr. Bell speaking to the officer. “I wasn’t doing anything,” he said. “I was just sitting there.” He pointed at me told the officer to ask me if he and I had just spoken.
“He’s fine,” I told the officer. “He hasn’t done anything to bother me. I am going to give him a ride to wherever he needs to go.”
I walked toward my car with Mr. Bell and the officer, who told us to depart.
Mr. Bell put my items in the car and I put my son in his carseat. After we had got into the car one officer told us to wait a minute because the other officer wanted to speak to Mr. Bell.
Mr. Bell and I sat in my car while Mr. Bell spoke with the officer. Mr. Bell told him that he had already spoken to the manager of Wal-Mart prior to the officers’ arriving and that he had told him that it was OK for him sit there. At some time during this conversation a third officer arrived.
We sat in the car for about 15 minutes while the first officer laughed and talked in a lively manner to the man who had called them to the scene. He was sitting in a silver BMW nearby. Mr. Bell asked if he could step out of the car and if I could leave because I had nothing to do with what was going on and I needed to get my son home because it was late. The officer told him he could get out of the car. “But you have to stay until we can figure out exactly what is going on,” he said to me. The officer told Mr. Bell to give his information to speed up the process.
The officer took Mr. Bell’s information, as if he were facing arrest. In an aggressive tone the first officer asked, “Do you know who that man is?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never met him before,” Mr. Bell said.
Belligerent officer: ‘Don’t eye-fuck me’
The officer told him it was Judge David Bales. Mr. Bell said, “I don’t know who that is. I don’t know him. I didn’t do anything wrong so it’s pretty much his word against mine.”
The officer responded: “Well, his word carries a little more weight than yours.”
Mr. Bell told the officer again that he hadn’t done anything wrong. The officer responded: “Shut up. You keep arguing with me and I’m gonna take you to jail.”
Mr. Bell stood, silently looking at the officer. The officer said, “Don’t eye fuck me, either, or I’m gonna smack the taste out your mouth.”
“You’re going to smack me?” Mr. Bell calmly asked.
“That’s it. Let’s go,” the officer burst out, shoving Mr. Bell against his police car and put him in handcuffs. “What am I being arrested for?” Mr. Bell cried. “What have I done? Why are you arresting me?” and questions of this kind. “I didn’t do nothing wrong. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Shut up! Stop resisting! Stop resisting,” the officer said. “Stop resisting.” Mr. Bell was making no motions to block the officer from putting on the handcuffs, did not struggle or fight back.
The first officer walked Mr. Bell to his police car, parked in front of the Wal-Mart, then he walked Mr. Bell to the BMW where Judge Bales sat. They exchanged words. The officer walked his prisoner back to the police car and placed him in the back seat.
The second officer asked me how I knew Mr. Bell. I had not met him prior to this evening, I said. He took down my name and address before allowing me and my son to leave.
Further affiant saith not. I swear the above and foregoing representations are true and correct to the best of my information, knowledge and belief. Etc.