The conduct was intentional or reckless, and was so outrageous that it is not tolerated by a civilized society. *** [T]he city failed to prepare its officers by training [to] protect the citizens of Chattanooga.
— Hanson Melvin, complaint
“Walking while black” defendant Hanson Melvin has sued former city police officer David Campbell and city government over his arrest and jailing in a case that suggests a lax police culture that accepts criminal activity and intimidation by officers and a cozy relationship between the state’s prosecutor in Chattanooga and cops who commit crimes.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 92.7 FM
Mr. Hanson was arrested May 29, 2016, at his Hixson apartment complex parking lot after he stood his ground and asserted his right not to be questioned without probable cause. Mr. Hanson and his wife, Tarah, are asking for F$500,000 in damages for the string of abuses and kidnapping that would have been prevented had Mr. Campbell and other officers respected the rules on probable cause as required by the state and federal constitutions.
District attorney Neal Pinkston prosecuted none of these policy violations as crimes, and is leaving the burden of prosecution to Mr. Melvin’s civil action, which will cost the Coca-Cola plant worker and father of three children a third of his take in attorney contingency fees.
Mayor Andy Berke, a Democrat lawyer, is responsible for the operation of the department, who serves his executive branch. He is looking for a chief to replace Fred Fletcher as chief. Under Mr. Fletcher’s tenure, the department appears to have been marked by a low regard for blacks and abusive patterns of harassment, as evidenced by the complaint filed in Hamilton County circuit court by Clay Whittaker of the McKoon Williams Atchley & Stanley law firm.
Cops descend on uppity black after he’s freed
In interviews Mr. Melvin says he received the telltale visit because he is an uppity citizen who had asserted his rights.
Mr. Melvin had been taken to jail, leaving his pregnant wife in their apartment uncertain of what had happened to him. Under arrest and at the jail, he “suffered intense emotional distress,” the suit says. Reaching his apartment, Mr. Melvin received a surprise visit by several officers in several cruisers, who surrounded the car of Coheleach Holmes.
“They were separated. They were physically seized by Officer Campbell and other officers and forced violently against vehicles in the parking lot. The officers were acting under color state law *** . The plaintiff asked why they were harassing him. Plaintiff again reminded the officer that they knew where he had been since they had falsely arrested him the night before. The officers were acting together, in a show of force, in an intimidating manner. Plaintiff reiterated that the officers were harassing him. Officer Campbell continued the physical restraint and detained the plaintiff and Mr. Holmes for several minutes during which time they were searched and patted down.
“All of the officers acted in concert and by conspiracy to target the plaintiff. No officer tried to stop officer Campbell or any of the other John Doe officers from their illegal, willful, malicious behavior. *** The plaintiff was punished for daring to exercise his free speech and to question officers during his false arrest. All of these officers acted to make the plaintiff know he was targeted by them, and to make him understand that they had authority over him and to chill the exercise of his liberty” under state and U.S. constitutions.
The night of his arrest, the officer demanded pedestrian Mr. Melvin show him his driver license and to state his social security number, to which demands Mr. Melvin did not comply. Audiotape of the arrest has Mr. Campbell declare that Mr. Melvin must comply because he’s “on government property.”
Not a loose cannon, but policy
The complaint delves into the history of Mr. Campbell, whom the city knew “had difficulty controlling his anger” and who abusively arrested a young man, William Boston, in 2012.
Even though the mayor’s department knew Mr. Campbell drove his cruiser at reckless speeds at night down city streets, it kept Mr. Campbell in its employ. The complaint goes out of its way to argue that Mr. Campbell is not a loose cannon but a true and accepted part of the department and city policy.
The listing of the officers actions as crimes should suggest how big a grace Mr. Pinkston has given in not prosecuting Mr. Campbell but leaving it to Chief Fletcher to fire him. That no one in the department dug up details especially of the harassing second visit, the suit indicates, shows the department in the Melvin cas is operating “according to well-settled standard operating procedures and customs that allowed the officer defendants and others to make a false report.”
Training reform demanded
In depicting Mr. Campbell as his actions as typical and ordinary rather than rogue or “bad apple,” the complaint indicates how training and supervision might be improved “with regard identifying if probable cause to arrest existed; protecting civil rights of citizens; understanding the limitations of their authority as officers; identifying elements of disorderly conduct; executing proper arrest procedure; allowing free exercise of speech by citizenry; acting ethically as law enforcement officers; controlling anger, fear and other emotions; *** properly using force; understanding proper contact and use of force; understanding reasonable suspicion; understanding and properly executing the law on Terry stops; police liability, questioning per Miranda; understanding and avoiding misconduct; and avoiding false arrest and harassment.”
The complaint says: “The failure of the city to adequately supervise defendant officers and its deliberate indifference was the proximate cause” of the violations.
In addition to the officers and the cities violation of federal law, the lawsuit identifies other counts for action, including false imprisonment, common law battery and common law assault , intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious harassment.
Chief Fletcher’s last day on the job is Thursday, and Mayor Berke is looking for a replacement. It is not known whether Mr. Berke has any interest in finding a reform-minded candidate who would be grieved to hear the arguments made in Mr. Melvin’s litigation against the mayor’s 500-strong agency that takes it upon itself to enforce innumerable state laws even though two major supreme court rulings say cities have civil authority only, not criminal.